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Trailer Parks as Hotbeds of Crime: Fact or Fiction?

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Studies of how physical environments contribute to crime are both numerous and revered. Relative to these studies is the perception that subsidized public housing (housing reserved for low income residents) has been viewed as being disproportionately criminogenic. Researchers, however, have historically ignored other housing types frequented by low income residents, but not normally subsidized through public programs. This research examined crime frequencies and patterns in both subsidized public housing units and trailer parks, and compared both locations to income-similar residential areas. Findings indicate that trailer parks are not “hotbeds of crime” are actually lower in some types of crime than their subsidized low-income housing counterparts. Keywords: public housing and crime, trailer parks, calls for service, low income housing, subsidized housing.
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2014, Vol. 2, No. 2
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Trailer Parks as Hotbeds of Crime: Fact or Fiction?
Emmanuel P. Barthe, Matthew C. Leone & B. Grant Stitt
Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada
Nevada, USA
E-mail: mleone@unr.edu
Received: October 4, 2014 Accepted: November 3, 2014 Published: November 28,
2014
doi:10.5296/iss.v2i2.6402 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.5296/iss.v2i2.6402
Abstract
Studies of how physical environments contribute to crime are both numerous and revered.
Relative to these studies is the perception that subsidized public housing (housing reserved
for low income residents) has been viewed as being disproportionately criminogenic.
Researchers, however, have historically ignored other housing types frequented by low
income residents, but not normally subsidized through public programs. This research
examined crime frequencies and patterns in both subsidized public housing units and trailer
parks, and compared both locations to income-similar residential areas. Findings indicate that
trailer parks are not “hotbeds of crime” are actually lower in some types of crime than their
subsidized low-income housing counterparts.
Keywords: public housing and crime, trailer parks, calls for service, low income housing,
subsidized housing
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1. Trailer Parks as Hotbeds of Crime: Fact or Fiction?
The stud y of “place as a criminogenic factor is a central and historically important
component of theoretical criminology. While it is difficult to identify exactly when the impact
of place on the genesis of crime was first noted, history shows that areas around town centers
were frequented by thieves and vagabonds since the development of those town centers in the
16th century (cf. Rose, 1988). These areas were so well known as places of crime that the
criminals considered these lands to be their own, and warned those travelling through these
places to carry sufficient properties and funds to guarantee safe passage.
In the United States, modern academic interest in the relationship between location and
disorder began with the work of Shaw and McKay in Chicago. Building on the earlier Human
Ecology work of Park, Burgess, and McKenzie (1925), Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay
(1969) utilized concentric zones to study juvenile delinquency in Chicago. This work
eventually led to the creation of several theories of social disorganization which were used to
explain both adult crime and juvenile delinquency, and defined Shaw and McKay as the
originators of what became known as the theory of Social Disorganization (Lilly, Cullen, &
Ball, 2011).
The Social Disorganization perspective emphasized community-level causes of crime,
specifically how social factors such as poverty and mobility contribute to the breakdown of
formal and informal social controls, leading to lawlessness and criminality (Bellair, 1997;
Bursik & Grasmick, 1993; Sampson, 1985; Sampson, 1987; Sampson & Groves, 1989;
Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997; Sampson & Wilson, 1995).
A criticism leveled at the Social Disorganization movement involved their concern for issues
exclusively related to social disorganization caused by location. It was noted by theorists such
as Merton (1938), Cohen (1955), and Cloward and Ohlin (1960), that persons in disorganized
areas might desire status goals and material goods, but their access to these goals are
structurally blocked. Consequently, access to desirable resources, individual goal orientation,
and structural opportunity may not be distributed evenly across the geographic plane of a
society, and therefore location might best be considered one of many possible factors which
contribute to crime.
More recently, research further refined the study of the geography of crime by incorporating
more distinct elements of the environment, such as travel paths, path intersections, and area
edges, into spatial frameworks (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1999). These ideas have gone
through several revisions since C. Ray Jeffery‟s “Crime Prevention Through Environmental
Design” (CPTED) was originally published in 1971. Since that time, CPTED has remained a
respected construct in crime control, and low income housing has remained an important and
readily available location for empirical enquiry.
2. Low Income Housing and Crime
In a significant review of criminological research on crime in low income housing, Holtzman
noted that “the stereotype that public housing residents are among the poorest Americans is
quite accurate” (1996:368), and that residents of public housing in the United States are
predominately minorities, with less than 30 percent of low income area residents identifying
as White. Further, he noted that census tracts in which public housing developments are
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located are considerably poorer than the nation as a whole and that the major sources of
income of the residents of these census tracts are federally provided (pensions, Supplemental
Security Income, etc.) or are state welfare based. Households represented in these public
housing units are characterized by racial segregation, poverty, welfare dependency, single
parenthood, and other aspects of severe disadvantagment (Holtzman, 1996). Significant
physical deterioration also plagues many public housing projects, prompting some to label
these areas “warehouses for the most disadvantage segments of the urban population” and to
argue the environment intensifies the “racial/ethnic segregation and the social isolation of
their residents (McNulty, 2000:707).
While numerous studies have confirmed the relationship between crime and public housing
(cf. William Brill and Associates, 1977; Burby & Rohe, 1989; Dunworth & Saiger, 1993;
Fagan & Davies, 1997; Farley, 1982; Harrell & Gouvis, 1994; Holtzman,1996; Holtzman,
Kudrick, & Voytek, 1996; Newman, 1972; Popkin, Gwiasda, & Olson, 2000; Roncek et.
al., 1981), Holtzman (1996) has argued that criminologists have historically lacked the tools
to systematically and reliably collect the data necessary to determine whether crime rates in
public housing developments differed from those of the immediately surrounding
neighborhood. Holtzman proposed using a survey methodology similar to the National
Criminal Victimization Survey to measure criminal victimization in these small but
well-defined public housing developments. This methodology was utilized by Holtzman and
Piper (1998), and while they acknowledged that their findings were not broadly applicable
due to their small sample size (510 households) they agreed that the study should be viewed
as an attempt to apply more modern research methodologies to these physical areas.
Following the broad acceptance of geographic information systems (GIS), Holtzman, Hyatt,
and Kudrick (2005) merged the ideas of the prior study with this new technology, and created
what would become a groundbreaking examination of crime in public housing developments.
Utilizing GIS technology, Holtzman et al. extracted reported Part I crime incidents from
police databases in public housing developments and surrounding neighborhoods. In each of
the three cities utilized in this research, Holtzman et al. separated the cities into 1) public
housing authority developments, 2) a 300-meter buffer surrounding each of the public
housing developments, and 3) the parent jurisdiction as a whole. Their results revealed that
being the victim of aggravated assault was higher in public housing than in surrounding
neighborhoods or in the larger parent jurisdictions. Conversely, they found the risk of
property crime victimization for burglary, larceny, and auto theft to be much lower in these
public housing developments. They further noted that these 300-meter buffer zones were
more dangerous than the parent jurisdictions as a whole. This is because the buffer zones
were adjacent to these public housing authority properties, and thereby remained part of the
“hot zo ne”, with higher rates of crime than found in the rest of the city. It is logical that areas
surrounding crime hot spots have higher crime rates than parent jurisdictions (but less than
the hot spot itself) since there a likely spill-over effect from the criminogenic area. Thus,
they concluded that the public housing developments could not be “characterized as islands
of calm in otherwise rough neighborhoods” (Holtzman, Hyatt, & Kudrick 2005, p. 325), but
rather that their impact on crime began within these housing units and diminished as the
distance from these areas increased.
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3. Trailer Parks and Crime
Trailer parks are designated residential areas that consist of individual land lots equipped with
electrical, water, and sewer hookups, which allow persons with mobile living units, such as
trailers or motor homes, to connect to these utilities and reside there affordably and for
extended periods of time. Such living situations are often inexpensive because the motor
home or trailer is usually wholly owned; therefore the only cost for residing in these locations
is the nominal space fee and utilities.
According to the 2011 American Housing Survey, the median monthly housing cost for a
site-built home was $1,340, in contrast to $545 for a manufactured home (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2011). This cost differential suggests that mobile or pre-manufactured homes are an
affordable alternative to conventional home ownership. Because of this economic reality,
trailer parks have inherited the reputation of being de facto low income housing, inhabited
mostly by poor and disenfranchised individuals. While trailer parks were originally designed
to offer a temporary housing location to residents and their mobile living units, many of these
parks have witnessed these trailers slowly become permanent park fixtures. The “mobile”
nature of many of these trailers is symbolic rather than practical, and after years or decades of
stasis, many of these once mobile units would be virtually impossible to move.
Popular culture has also reflected the reputation of trailer parks and their residents, with such
televised shows and stage productions such as “Trailer Park Boys”, My Name is Earl”, and
“The Great American Trailer Trash Musical”. These entertainment oriented creations depicted
the residents of these housing sites as vulgar, uneducated, poor, and potentially dangerous
individuals. C ulturally popular terms such as “trailer trash” serve to reify suc h beliefs about
the residents of these trailer parks. This, of course, is a stereotypic depiction of trailer parks
and their residents, and it must be acknowledged that there are well maintained and regulated
trailer parks where residents benefit from a well-designed, attractively landscaped, safe and
affordable living environment. Furthermore, innovations in manufacturing have also allowed
mobile home owners to enjoy much larger and more comfortable homes than in the past. In
short, not all trailer parks are equal; some may be hot spots of criminality and deviance, while
others provide their residents with quality, affordable housing. While many of these residents
own their living spaces, by not being responsible for the property or the infrastructure of the
park, the problems and expenses common to traditional home ownership are greatly reduced.
Social disorganization theory supports idea that those residing in public or low-income
housing are traditionally more of a problem for law enforcement agencies and the
surrounding neighborhoods (Holtzman, et al., 2005; Mazerolle et al., 2000). Place-based
theories of crime, such as routine activity theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979; Eck & Weisburd,
1995; Cornish & Clarke, 1986) would support the idea that low income housing would have
higher crime rates than private residential housing since the lack of ownership might result in
the residents caring less or being less vigilant with their surroundings, allowing disorder to
both originate and persist. This relationship between income and disorder, however, becomes
much less clear when one considers the many different types of low income housing. One
could argue that the transient nature of mobile home parks could make them more conducive
to crime and disorder, while another line of reasoning could argue that the environmental
factors specific to trailer parks, such as the close proximity of trailers in the park, may
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actually reduce disorder.
Studies which specifically examine crime patterns in mobile home/trailer parks are rare, and
exist primarily in practitioner-oriented publications which focus on park management and
operations. These often non-peer reviewed publications have documented the crime problems
associated with certain mobile home communities, and have also chronicled attempts by local
law enforcement agencies to institute programs to combat these problems (Dominguez, 2003;
Farley, 1992). Other sources examined specific criminal behaviors in unique trailer park
environments, such as "How to Spot Crime in a Trailer Park” (Reynolds, 2008) and "Drugs
and Crime Plague FEMA Trailer Park Residents" (Lohr, 2006). These documents may serve
to further reinforce the perception of crime and disorder in trailer parks. As Salamon and
MacTavish (2005) noted, residents of towns near rural trailer parks tended to blame park
residents for local crimes and considered the residents “freeloaders” for supposedly not
paying their fair share of property taxes for education and other public services. While there
is a relatively little research on crimes in trailer parks, there are even fewer studies on crimes
committed by trailer park residents in other locations. For example, do trailer park residents
travel often to commit crimes in remote locations? And if so, how far do they travel? It is
important to note that trailer parks are usually located on the outskirts of a jurisdiction, and
residents without the means to travel long distances will have limited opportunities to access
to other parts of the jurisdiction for the purposes of crime commission. It could also be
asserted that trailer parks resemble small communities, and routine activities theory posits
that most people remain proximal to their “living” areas, both out of convenience and the
unease caused by visiting unfamiliar regions.
4. Research Question
Using data provided by law enforcement agencies, the present research will examine the
nature and extent of crime found in and around mobile home parks and subsidized housing
units. As Holtzman (1996) demonstrated, public housing structures engender certain crime
and disorder problems, correspondingly, this research seeks to determine if similar problems
exist in trailer parks and their surrounding areas. These analyses seek to answer two specific
questions: what is the relative extent of criminality in and around the trailer park environment,
and how do these environments compare with other housing sites in the same city? Past
research has typically focused upon public housing structures which resemble massive,
multi-storied buildings and house thousands of residents in each complex (Holtzman, 1996;
Mazerolle, Ready, Terrill, & Waring, 2000). In contrast, this research will examine smaller
low income housing sites and compare them to both the aforementioned mobile home/trailer
parks, and selected traditional single-family housing areas using GIS maps to select the data,
analyses of variance to compare the areas in question, and t-tests to compare specific offense
types across areas.
5. Methodology
5.1 Data Sources
Calls for service and incidents recorded by the police from 2003 to 2006 were obtained from
the planning unit of the municipal police department in the city under examination. An
acknowledged limitation of using calls for service as a determiner of crime is that these calls
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are citizen-initiated, meaning some crimes will occur without generating a call for service,
sometimes the actual crime detected by officers may be dramatically different than the
description of the incident provided by the caller, and sometimes officers will respond but
will find no evidence of wrongdoing (Klinger & Bridges, 1997). Proponents of calls for
service as a source of data argue that police underreport incidents that are handled informally.
Crime incident reports may represent an “officer orientation”, while calls for service will
represent the perspective of the citizens of that specific area (Katz et al., 2001). For example,
numerous concerned residents can call the police and complain about a noisy corner where
youth congregate. These multiple calls for service can be used as both an indicator of the
presence of a problem, and a measure of magnitude of the problem. Relying on crime
incident data in this case would minimize the severity of the problem, as police may not file a
report for an informal action taken to rectify the problem (the noisy youths are asked to go
home). Furthermore, a crime report or an arrest will be represented as a single incident, even
though a multitude of resident complaints preceded the arrival of the officers and prompted
the resolution. The discretionary nature of police work affects what crimes are reported and
how they are officially recorded. Sherman et al. assert that “calls for service to the police
provide the most extensive and faithful account of what the public tells the police about crime”
(Sherman et al. 1989, p. 36).
Data from police call-codes were collected and recoded into calls for service and incident
type. Non-crime related calls and incidents, administrative calls, animal related incidents, and
lost property were excluded from the database; only incidents dealing with crime and
disorder were retained and recoded into the following discreet categories:
1) Violent / Person Crimes
Includes any incident that involved violence or the threat of violence. The person
crimes category therefore included all assaults, batteries, sexual crimes, threats,
etc.
2) Property Crimes
Includes thefts, vandalism, destruction of property, etc.
3) Public Order Crimes
Includes items like public intoxication, disturbing the peace, noise complaints,
lewdness, street racing, etc.
4) Family Disputes
Any event that involved a family disturbance without actual physical violence
5) Burglary (Residential)
Burglaries of residential dwellings
6) Drugs and Alcohol
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Any instance involving the sale, possession, distribution, and manufacturing of
drugs or alcohol
7) Car Crimes (thefts of and thefts from)
Burglaries and thefts involving automobiles and motorcycles.
5.2 Selection of Low Income Housing Sites (Trailer Parks and Public Housing)
The western United States city where this research was conducted has no large public
housing complexes characterized by tall, industrial, and usually neglected buildings. In this
particular jurisdiction, there are 750 subsidized residential apartments across eight housing
units. Each building unit consists one or two story condominium-type apartments, with six to
ten individual dwelling units per building. These housing sites are limited to low income
residents, and each site has landscaping, public playgrounds, and other shared public areas
that are well maintained. In addition to these public housing sites, there are also apartment
complexes that provide subsidized housing for select tenants using the "section 8" program.
These “integrated” apartment complexes were originally designed to welcome low income
tenants and more affluent ones, but over time, the majority of tenants became low income
families. While these privately owned apartment complexes do not fall directly under the
control of the public housing authorities who manage the state owned units, they are de facto
low income housing units and are will be used as part of the low income housing areas which
will be compared to the trailer park sites.
A list of housing sites where low-income subsidized residents were welcome was collected
from the city‟s housing authority. This list included housing for low-income families,
low-income seniors, the disabled, and low-income singles without children. Fifty-one
subsidized housing sites were identified, with 53 percent housing families, 31 percent
housing seniors and disabled residents, 11 percent housing single individuals, and 5 percent
housing unidentified low income residents.
A search using on-line and telephone book sources was then used to identify the
trailer/mobile home parks located in the city. Trailer parks were defined as commercial sites
that accommodate mobile homes, trailers, and other vehicles for the purposes of providing
temporary housing. Not included under this designation were individual property owners who
agreed to allow an individual to reside on their property in a mobile housing unit, or
traditional “camper oriented campgrounds. Residents of these campgrounds tend to have
permanent housing in other communities and utilize these spaces during their brief travels
through an area. As such, campground residents tend to be much more transient and less
attached to the local community. Available information on some of these sites was sometimes
ambiguous and did not clearly indicate if it was a long term location or a more “camping”
style facility. In order to avoid including these camping oriented sites, a subsequent physical
examination was carried out on all of the trailer parks located within city boundaries, and
those temporary camping facilities were then excluded from the analyses reducing the
number of verified low-income trailer park facilities to 26.
Using the satellite imagery program Google Earth, the trailer parks and housing sites were
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located using their business addresses. Geographic boundaries of both subsidized housing
sites and trailer parks were then drawn onto the city street layers using ArcGIS, allowing the
researchers to create unique polygons for each site.
Following the creation of the polygons for each of these housing sites, 300 feet buffer areas
surrounding each of the housing polygons were again created using ArcGIS (Holtzman,
1996). In all cases, adjacent streets, and streets inside the complexes were also selected, but
proximal areas separated by natural boundaries such as highways or waterways were not
included in these polygons (see Figure 1). This procedure provided more realistic geographic
areas which could be identified as true public housing zones, and allowed for more accurate
Figure 1. Location of low income housing
sites.
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inclusion of crimes occurring in the housing areas and in these adjacent buffer zones.
The data files provided by the police departments included both addresses and map
coordinates for each call and each incident report. Using these map coordinates reduced the
geocoding errors which typically result from using street addresses in geographic analyses.
Using ArcGis, calls for service and crime incidents were then plotted to both the street layer
within the housing area as well as these newly created buffer zones surrounding these
housing sites.
5.3 Selection of Low Income Housing Sites (Comparison Areas)
Comparison areas were then identified. Data provided by the United States Census Bureau
were merged with the city‟s census tracts and block groups, and mean per capita salaries were
calculated for each block group containing a trailer park or public housing site. Comparable
blocks without trailer parks or other public housing units were then identified, and individual
residences were randomly selected from each of these block groups and combined to form
these comparison sites. Mean per capita salaries were then calculated for each of these
smaller groupings to ascertain if they were still comparable to the selected subsidized
low-income housing sites. These groupings were found to be roughly equivalent with the
salary estimates for the low income housing sites being $15,194; $17,878 for the trailer
park sites, and $17,403 for the comparison residential housing areas. With these relatively
similar low income areas identified and mapped, it was then possible to conduct a
comparison of crime type and prevalence among these three types of housing. To reiterate,
the three sites were: 1) mobile home residences located within trailer parks, 2) apartments
within apartment complexes containing subsidized public housing, and 3) individual private
residences located in financially disadvantaged neighborhoods. For the purposes of clarity,
the state subsidized apartment complexes will be referred to as “public housing”, properties
which house mobile homes, trailers, or other similar structures will be referred to as trailer
parks”, and the residential areas selected as statistical controls will be referred to as
comparison areas”.
5.4 Rate Calculation
In order to calculate rates per household across the different housing sites, the number of
households in each setting was used because it provided a more stable and more reliable
measure than population. Facility managers could accurately report how many spaces or
apartments were located within their park or complex, and they were able to provide data
indicating the presence of spaces or dwelling units that appeared available, but were not
available for rental purposes. Therefore, the total number of households was calculated by
simply counting the number of available and occupied spaces or living units in both the
trailer parks and the public housing sites. Individual residential addresses were, however,
used in the comparison areas. Using census and jurisdictional maps, 2,341 residential
households were selected from twenty-three different neighborhoods found in comparable
block groups (based on mean salary and population density). Number of calls for service and
incidents were again calculated for each of those 2,341 locations. A summary of the number
of sites and number of households by type of site is presented in Table 1.
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Table 1. Housing site and corresponding number of households
Site Type
Number
Total Households
Trailer Parks
26
3088
Public Housing Sites
51
6016
Comparison Residential Sites
23
2341
6. Results
6.1 Calls for Service
Calls for service to the police were relatively similar in nature across the three sites over the
three-year period. For example, family disputes comprised 23 percent of the calls for service
in the public housing sites and 22 percent of the calls in the trailer park sites, while the
comparison sites reported only 16 percent. Calls for service for public order crimes
comprised 32 percent of all calls at the public housing sites, 32 percent at the trailer park sites,
and 34 percent of calls at the comparison sites.
Table 2. Calls for service by housing type
Calls for
Service
Trailer Park
Sites (n=3088)
Comparison
Sites (n=2341)
Count
Percent
Rate*
Count
Percent
Rate*
Count
Perce
nt
Rate*
Violent Crime
2158
13
.36
939
11
.30
1439
14
.61
Property
Crime
1825
11
.30
1187
13
.38
1376
13
.59
Public Order
5165
32
.86
2829
32
.92
3546
34
1.51
Family
Dispute
3677
23
.61
1967
22
.64
1655
16
.71
Burglary
630
4
.10
357
4
.12
399
4
.17
Drugs/Alcohol
498
3
.08
288
3
.01
473
5
.20
Car Crime
Total
1765
15718
11
100
.29
2.61
1032
8599
12
100
.33
2.78
1260
10148
12
100
.54
4.33
(*Rate is rate per household)
Findings were similar for individual call types (see Table 2). Trailer park sites showed the
lowest rate of violent crime calls for service at .30 per household. In contrast, the public
housing sites‟ rate per household was .36 and the comparison sites reported a rate of .61 per
household respectively. When considering all calls for service made to the police, the public
housing sites had the lowest rate per household at 2.61, followed by the trailer parks at 2.78.
In contrast, the comparison site rate was substantially higher at 4.33.
These differences, while interesting and informative, were only descriptive in nature. In order
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to ascertain the statistical significance of these differences, Analyses of Variance (ANOVA)
were utilized. Monthly rates per one-hundred households for the three main call categories
(violent, property, and public order) were calculated for each of the three housing types were
compared using ANOVA. Significant differences across these calls for service categories for
the three types of housing sites were noted, and as Table 3 demonstrates, the comparison sites
had consistently higher mean monthly rates for all call types. Table 3 does show, however,
that the mean monthly call rate is higher for those households located in trailer parks than
those located in public housing sites. To further calculate the differences between trailer parks
and public housing sites, the mean monthly rate for calls for service was compared across
more specific call types using t-tests. As Table 4 shows, there were significant differences
across all call types with the greatest difference being in the monthly rate per household of
family disputes (5.3 in trailer parks versus 2.3 in public housing). While still statistically
significant, the difference between the other call for service types was less striking.
Table 3. Call rates by housing type for three main crime types
Calls for Service
Trailer Parks
Public Housing
Comparison Site
Violent Crime *
2.5
2.0
5.1
Property Crime *
3.2
1.9
4.9
Public Order*
7.6
4.9
12.6
* Significant difference at P<.05.
Table 4. Monthly call rates by low income housing
Calls for Service
Trailer Parks
Public Housing
Family Dispute*
5.3
2.3
Car Crime*
2.8
1.7
Burglary*
1.0
0.6
Drugs/Alcohol*
0.8
0.7
* Significant difference at P<.05.
6.2 Incidents
As noted above, crime incidents represent a different type of data than calls for service in that
incidents represent actual crime occurrences that were recorded by police by means of a
police report. Analyses of incidents reported by the police display a similar pattern to the calls
for service data. While there are some slight differences across crime types for each site, all
three sites demonstrate that their biggest problems revolve around family disputes, property
crimes, and car crimes (please see Table 5). For example, in the public housing sites, the three
most prevalent crimes were family disputes (23 percent), property crimes (22 percent), and
car crimes (20 percent). In the trailer park sites, these were property crimes (23 percent),
family disputes (19 percent), and car crimes (16 percent). In the comparison sites, the three
most common crimes were property crimes (27 percent), car crimes (19 percent), and family
disputes (13 percent). In contrast to those crimes, offenses against public order offered some
unique findings. While conventional wisdom would predict that public order offenses would
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be higher in the public housing and trailer parks sites due to the population density, transient
populations, etc., Table 5 shows that the comparison site has the highest rates per household
for public order crimes (and all other crime types for that matter) when compared to the other
two low income housing sites.
Table 5. Crime incidents by housing type
Crime Type
Trailer Park
Sites (n=3088)
Comparison
Sites (n=2341)
Count
Perce
nt
Rate
Count
Percent
Rate
Count
Percent
Rate
Violent Crime
101
15
0.02
251
13
0.08
270
11
0.12
Property
Crime
147
22
0.02
448
23
0.15
646
27
0.28
Public Order
40
6
0.01
130
7
0.04
137
6
0.06
Family
Dispute
159
23
0.03
373
19
0.12
310
13
0.13
Car Crime
140
20
0.02
316
16
0.10
455
19
0.19
Burglary
52
8
0.01
152
8
0.05
198
8
0.08
Drugs/Alcohol
Total
19
658
3
100
0.00
.11
161
1831
8
100
0.05
.60
285
2301
12
100
0.12
.99
Table 6. Monthly incident rates by housing type
Crime Type
Trailer Parks
Public Housing
Comparison Site
Violent Crime *
.68
.14
.96
Property Crime *
1.21
.20
1.30
Public Order*
.35
.06
.49
* Significant difference at P<.05.
To test for statistical significance across housing types, an ANOVA was then performed on
the incident data. These analyses indicated that differences across the sites were statistically
significant for violent, property and public order crime categories. Table 6 shows that, once
again, the comparison residential sites had the highest rates per household across crime types
when compared to the other housing sites, but also that trailer parks had higher rates than the
public housing sites.
6.3 Trailer Park Calls for Service Analysis
The above rates were aggregated for all the sites within each housing category, making
necessary a further exploration of the variation among trailer parks to shed additional light on
this particular type of low-income housing. Call for service rates were calculated (# of total
calls / # of households per park) for each trailer park. This generated a rate for each park, and
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the parks were then ranked from highest to lowest based upon this score (ranging from a low
of .17 to a high of 13.43, with a mean of 2.85). Of the twenty-six trailer parks included in this
research, seventeen (65%) fell below the trailer park mean call rate, indicating that that the
majority of the trailer parks examined did not generate significant crime problems for the city
and the average was skwewed by the presence of a few problematic locations. Three of the
trailer parks examined had unusually high call rates. These top three trailer parks (named
Trailer Park A, B, and C) were first examined individually, and then compared across the
different call types. As Table 7 shows, Trailer Park B had an especially high rate of public
order crime calls for service (4.3) when compared to the other two sites (A and C). Table 7
also demonstrates that there were significant variations across trailer parks for certain call
types. For example, family disputes made up 26 percent of the calls in Trailer Park A, 13
percent in Trailer Park B, but only 7 percent in Trailer Park C. Conversely, Trailer Park B had
a rate of 3.5 for car crimes compared to .4 and .9 in the other trailer parks. These findings
support the idea that there are a few parks that distinguish themselves through significantly
higher call rates, b ut these “top offenders” differed substantially in the types of calls of
service they produced.
Table 7. Calls for service for the three top trailer parks
Calls for
Service
Trailer Park A
Trailer Park B
Trailer Park C
Count
Percent
Rate
Count
Percent
Rate
Count
Percent
Rate
Violent Crime
46
13
1.0
129
11
1.4
59
14
1.0
Property Crime
39
13
.9
121
10
1.3
85
20
1.4
Public Order
79
27
1.8
388
32
4.3
131
31
2.1
Family Dispute
77
26
1.7
153
13
1.7
31
7
.05
Car Crime
16
5
.4
315
26
3.5
58
14
.9
Burglary
8
3
.2
23
2
.3
2
0
0.0
Drugs/Alcohol
19
7
.4
47
4
.5
43
10
.7
6.4 Trailer Park Incident Analysis
Incident rates were also compared across the twenty-six trailer parks to ascertain the degree
of cross-park variation. Again, seventeen of the trailer parks examined (65%) had rates below
the average trailer park incident rate of .63, also indicating that the majority of trailer parks
were not criminogenic. Similar to the calls for service analyses, the same three trailer parks
with the highest incident rates were selected for additional examination (see Table 8 for
offense percentages).
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Table 8. Offense Types for the Trailer Parks with the Highest Crime Rates (in percent)
Crime Type
Trailer Park A
Trailer Park B
Trailer Park C
Violent Crime
13
10
11
Property Crime
36
21
23
Public Order
3
8
4
Family Dispute
7
15
21
Car Crime
16
25
8
Drugs/Alcohol
17
8
18
Other Crime
8
13
15
Total
100
100
100
Drug and alcohol percentages were much higher in two of the three sites (A & C), with site A
showing 17%, site C showing 18%. In comparison, alcohol and drugs made up only 8% of
the total incidents for site B. Site C also has a large percentage of family disputes when
compared to the other two sites. Further, there were variations among the sites for the
percentage of car-related crimes, indicating that even among the three sites with the highest
rate of offenses, there were still substantial differences in criminal activities.
7. Discussion
This research examined crime generation related to two types of low-income housing:
Subsidized Public Housing and Trailer Parks. Overall, the public housing sites and the trailer
park sites did not create significant crime problems when compared to their residential
counterparts, and only a few trailer parks were associated with high call for service and crime
incident levels.
There is a social perception that all public housing resembles the towering and gloomy
“housing projects” found in many large cities. In reality, most small and medium size
jurisdictions offer subsidized public housing that in no way resembles these larger city
counterparts. The low-income public housing sites examined in this research were not
structurally different than the majority of public housing found across the United States.
These sites ranged from one to three stories, with only a few exceeding that height. In terms
of geographic placement, both types of sites were dispersed across the cityscape, and were
not exclusively located in what was considered the slum” area within the city. In most public
housing sites, residents have direct access to the exterior parking lot, reducing the need for
elevators, lobbies, hallways, staircases, or other common areas that have been shown to
facilitate vandalism, victimization, and other forms of criminality (Mazerolle, et. al., 2000).
The trailer parks, while equal in population density, shared similar characteristics (single
story units, direct access to parking spaces, individual entry to residence, and few common
spaces for victimization).
This research found that the economically comparable low income residential housing sites
produced more calls to the police and more crime incidents than the public housing sites or
the trailer parks. Overall, trailer parks did generate more crime than the other public housing
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sites examined, but this was due to the influence of the few parks which were responsible for
the majority of the incidents and calls. The majority of trailer parks were in fact relatively
peaceful law-abiding residential communities. These lower than expected crime problems in
trailer parks could be due to several reasons.
From a socio-economic standpoint, trailer park residents, due to their reduced cost of living,
may have more surplus income and consequently there may be less economic motivation to
commit crime. Furthermore, tenants may feel compelled to maintain the peace as their
housing options are limited, and an eviction would require moving their mobile housing unit
to another park, a difficult, time consuming, and expensive endeavor. Another possibility is
that some tenants of the trailer parks choose to not call the police as often as other residents
because they fear retaliation from neighbors, or because they do not want to attract police
attention. It is also possible that these trailer park residents are accustomed to such living
conditions, and consider it normal and unworthy of police intervention. Although these are
viable points, there may be more compelling explanations for this lack of rampant crime and
disorder in trailer parks. Borrowing from Poyner and Webb (1991), Felson offers some
practical insight. The impact of ownership may be an important factor in these findings as
trailer park residents generally own their dwelling, and “if you own your own property, you
have good reason to keep it clean, safe, secure, and valuable (Felson, 1998, p. 28). Therefore,
while less valuable than traditional houses, trailers still represent a form of equitable
ownership, engendering certain protection measures such as informal surveillance, alarm
systems, and place maintenance. Additionally, there are often central offices for residents‟
needs and to help coordinate other maintenance items (i.e., regulating water usage, tree
cutting, snow removal, maintaining resident logs, etc.). As such, these trailer park offices
provide an important function as “place managers (Eck, & Weisburd, 1995; Green, 1995;
Sherman & Weisburd, 1995; Weisburd & Green (1995), providing residents with park rules,
enforcing traffic and parking regulations, and ensuring that disorderly behaviors are kept to a
minimum.
Another trailer park attribute that may diminish crime is the proximity to neighboring trailers,
which may have crime reducing properties. As Felson noted, designing housing layouts to
create “sight lines which allow neighbors to have a direct view of the nearby homes is
invaluable in reducing property crime (Felson, 1998). Close housing proximity creates a
community of guardians, making illegal activity much easier to detect (see Figure 2), and
may also increase informal social control and decrease reliance on formal interventions.
Finally, trailer parks do not have environmental features such elevators, rooftops, or dark
alleys, all of which traditionally facilitate crime in low income housing venues.
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Figure 2. Layout of a traditional trailer park showing trailer proximity and some sample
corresponding “sight lines”
8. Conclusion
Clearly more research is needed to truly understand the different dynamics that factor into
crime prevalence in the types of housing sites examined. In terms of trailer parks, other
factors such as the number of owners versus renters, the average rental time for those
residents who rent rather than own, the percentage of children in the park, and the average
cost of the trailers are all variables which should be examined in future studies. Additionally,
the percentage of subsidized units in the low-income complexes, as well as the transiency,
population density, and other demographic information of the residents of these housing sites
were not considered for this analysis, but should be included in future research. The
economic condition of the residents of each of these sites should also be examined and
included in future studies. As was noted earlier in this paper, single family detached homes
are much more expensive than subsidized housing and trailer park dwellings. Therefore, it is
appropriate to question if the measured income similarities used to create comparison groups
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actually create surplus income dissimilarities. In reality, do those who live in trailer parks and
subsidized housing have more discretionary income and therefore a diminished economic
incentive to commit crimes of gain? Further examinations of the real cost of residing in these
areas could create a better understanding of the expenses associated with each of these living
areas.
The crime incident and calls for service differences among the three most problematic trailer
parks should also be examined more completely. It is likely that there are social or structural
factors that engendered the specific problems each of these locations experienced. A more
complete evaluation of these predisposing elements could lead to both a better understanding
of crime genesis, and an increased probability of crime control for those most at-risk
locations. Crime genesis as a result of physical place is both complex and complicated, and
the addition of these and other variables could help to refine the study of “place” as a
criminogenic factor in many areas of environmental criminology.
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Chapter 1 Table of Contents Chapter 2 Preface Chapter 3 1 Basic Issues Chapter 4 2 The Criminal Behavior of Neighborhood Residents Chapter 5 3 Neighborhood Opportunities for Criminal Behavior Chapter 6 4 Neighborhood Dynamics and the Fear of Crime Chapter 7 5 The Neighborhood Context of Gang Behavior Chapter 8 6 Neighborhood-Based Responses to Crime: Policy Issues Chapter 9 Epilogue Chapter 10 Notes Chapter 11 References Chapter 12 Acknowledgments Chapter 13 Index Chapter 14 About the Author
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