Experiences of violent and property victimization in Santiago neighbourhoods: multilevel approaches to social disorganization theory and new ecological studies of crime
Manzano, Liliana Elizabeth
Chávez, Liliana Manzano
Social Disorganization Theory (SDT) stated that in poor and unstable neighbourhoods, residents may have difficulty developing and maintaining social order, due to the weaknesses of their social networks and the infrequent exercise of informal control. As a consequence, in those areas criminal victimization tends to be high and persists over time. Latin American poor neighbourhoods are often characterised by high residential stability, dense informal networks, strong social cohesion, and yet they often have high levels of violent crime, which constitutes a challenge for SDT. Studies from new ecological approaches have asserted that even if informal networks are weak, neighbours can engage in actions to prevent crimes when the form of intervention is appropriately targeted and the activity is conducted in a partnership with agencies of public control, such as the police or local authorities. Thereby, the general distrust in police and local authorities, and the weak nexus between those institutions and local communities, which characterize most poor areas of Latin-American cities, represent relevant obstacles for the encouragement of neighbours’ involvement in crime prevention initiatives. Despite the low rates of violent crimes in Chile, global figures tend to hide how complex the crime phenomenon is in the country, and particularly in Santiago city. In the capital and largest city of Chile, the distribution of High-Social-Impact crimes is highly unequal with a greater concentration of violent crimes in the most marginalized and poorest districts of the city. In this context is worth asking, to what extent do neighbourhood structural conditions, community-organizational mechanisms and new forms of public control influence the experiences of violent and property victimization in households of Santiago neighbourhoods? And, to what extent do such mechanisms mediate the relationship between structural conditions and the likelihood of being victim of a crime in Santiago neighbourhoods? To address these questions, the present study draws on an integral theoretical framework aimed at providing a holistic multilevel approach to explaining victimization risk across Santiago neighbourhoods. Data for this study are drawn from a community-survey of 5,860 persons (from 15 to 90 years old) who lived in 242 selected neighbourhoods of the Santiago city. The survey was conducted in 2010 by the Centre for Studies on Citizen Security (CESC), based at the University of Chile, in the context of their research project ‘Crime and Urban Violence’. The hierarchical structure of the data (incorporating both individual and neighbourhood level measures) and the adaptation of internationally validated measurements, presents an excellent opportunity to evaluate complex hypothesis with advanced statistical tools. The research has shown that in neighbourhoods with a high concentration of poverty and low residential stability the probability of being a victim of violent crime is greater than in rich areas. However, when people manifest positive sentiments toward their neighbourhood, perceive collaboration and social cohesion among neighbours, and have positive perceptions with respect to police responses, this largely mediates the negative effects of structural conditions on household victimization by violent crimes, thereby eliminating these effects. These findings have important policy implications. They suggest that in disadvantaged communities it is imperative that police and local authorities not only try to reduce crime through traditional approaches, but also improve trust and engagement of the public aiming to build sustainable partnerships.