A new federally funded program to examine and hopefully eliminate the fear of crime in inner-city neighborhoods is about to be tested in Newark, N.J., and Houston.
The initial federal money being spent on the study is small, only $1.8 million. But the fact that US Attorney General William French Smith came to Newark this week to announce the program underscores its importance, Justice Department sources say
Studies of the fear of crime are not new. The ''Figgie report'' (conducted several years ago by A-T-O Inc., whose chief executive officer, Harry E. Figgie, gave the report its name) concluded that four out of 10 Americans fear that a crime might happen to them. But this report did little more than document the fact that the fear of crime was more pervasive than people realized.
The new Justice Department-funded study will include attempts to do something about the fears it finds in Newark and Houston through a series of pilot strategies .
These efforts will be spearheaded by the Police Foundation, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization that analyzes and criticizes police procedures. The foundation will be assisted by the Office of Justice Assistance, Research, and Statistics (OJARS), the research arm of the Justice Department.
Specifically, the foundation and OJARS will seek to find out ''whether the reduction of the fear of crime will have a direct effect on crime itself,'' says William Salisbury, the project's coordinator in OJARS. A second important question to a neighborhood is whether reducing of the fear of crime will boost commerical activity, Mr. Salisbury adds.
This point is of particular interest to New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, who attended the City Hall news conference with Attorney General Smith. In too many instances, Governor Kean asserted, the fear of crime nips planned inner-city economic development in the bud.
Once surveys of the concerns about crime are completed, in about six months, the Police Foundation will move to take specific steps to address these concerns. For example, researchers say that one possible course of action may be to inaugurate extensive neighborhood cleanups because the physical condition of a community is a major factor in the rate of crime, some studies conclude.
If these pilot projects work in poorer neighborhoods of Newark and Houston, they may well be started up elsewhere, Justice Department officials say.