Want to take a bite out of crime? Try meeting your neighbors.
Ties among neighbors are the surest way to reduce crime, according to a recent study published in Science magazine.
Strong neighborhood bonds made a bigger difference in crime rates than other factors, such as income levels, education, and racial composition, the study found.
The study's three authors surveyed 8,732 residents in 343 Chicago neighborhoods to measure their mutual trust and willingness to intervene in the supervision of children and to maintain public order. Homicide rates in neighborhoods with these traits were 40 percent lower than in similar neighborhoods that had less cohesion, they found.
"What contributes to the reduction of crime is primarily the willingness of neighbors to supervise, monitor, and intervene in the lives of kids in a spontaneous and informal way," says co-author Felton Earls, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
In cohesive neighborhoods, adults know the children on their block by name and will speak to them or their parents if they are getting in trouble, Dr. Earls says.
The study found that kind of cohesion in all types of neighborhoods. "The good news is that some poor neighborhoods have it," he says. "The bad news is that some middle-class neighborhoods don't."
Even some public-housing projects, usually known for their violence and poverty, had strong neighborhood ties and were able to reduce crime rates, Earls says.
Northwest Austin, a low-income area on Chicago's West Side, shows what a difference neighborhood ties can make. Whenever drug dealers try to take over one of the local street corners, residents bring out their lawn chairs and host a giant barbecue until the dealers go away, says Irma Ford, an activist with the Northwest Austin Council.
Churches and community groups as well as a few active individuals can generate these kinds of community bonds, Earls says.