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Cityscape: Volume 11 Number 1: Chapter 4


Lessons for the United States From Asian Nations

Volume 11 Number 1

Crime Control in the City: A Research-Based Briefing on Public and Private Measures

Philip J. Cook

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. government at large.


Crime control deserves priority in urban policymaking. High crime rates are a drag on community development and a great burden on households that cannot afford to relocate. Successful control of theft, vandalism, public disorder (often associated with drug selling), and especially violence set the stage for increasing property values, investment, job growth, and a higher standard of living. The fact that most large cities are far safer today than they were two decades ago has contributed to the growth and prosperity of those cities. Nevertheless, crime rates can be remarkably volatile—more so than other social indicators—and require continuing attention.

Recent history teaches us that large fluctuations in crime rates can occur without much change in underlying socioeconomic conditions. Although crime tends to be concentrated in low-resource neighborhoods year in and year out, crime rates are not uniquely determined by the socioeconomic conditions—far from it. The quantity and quality of policing matter. Police effectiveness requires cooperation by the public and could be enhanced by programs to elicit greater voluntary cooperation. The private sector also has a direct role in crime control—as many private security guards as sworn police officers are involved in crime prevention—but the interaction between public and private efforts is not well understood. Over the long run, social policy, including social services, housing, education, and mental health, are potentially important in the control and prevention of crime, and city agencies concerned with social policy should accept crime reduction as one of their purposes.


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