Deviant Places

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Author: Chad Posick
Editors: Craig J. Forsyth and Heith Copes
Date: 2014
Encyclopedia of Social Deviance
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 4
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Page 196

Deviant Places

Research on offending and victimization reveals that there are certain places that influence the likelihood of engaging in deviant behavior or becoming the victim of a crime. These places, to be referred to as “deviant places” throughout this entry, tend to be located away from responsible adult supervision and sources of formal social control (e.g., the police). They also tend to persist over time, even after population changes. A deviant place can be as small as a street corner or a single address or as big as an entire street or census block. For example, poorly lit parks, alleyways, and abandoned buildings are associated with deviant activity ranging from relatively minor deviance such as vandalism to more serious deviance such as drug use and violence. In fact, it is generally the case that a small portion of places account for the bulk of all crime and deviance, even within neighborhoods with very high crime rates.

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Deviant places tend to be located in dense urban areas, disadvantaged neighborhoods, mixed-use and transient neighborhoods, and neighborhoods marked by dilapidation. These areas promote cynical attitudes, opportunities for deviance, motivation for deviance, and diminished social control. Such places are deviant because of their location and relationship to the environment, and the types of people who congregate (or do not congregate) there. Because of the activity at these places and their disproportionate contribution to deviance, agents of informal (e.g., parents) and formal (e.g., the police) social control focus on these areas to reduce the likelihood of various forms of deviant activity.

This entry reviews some deviant places and what research has to say about the activity that goes on in these areas. It also discusses some of the theoretical issues around deviant places and the implications for public policy. It concludes with recommended readings for those interested in learning more about deviant places.

Examples of Deviant Places

Bars and Pubs

Frequenting bars and pubs increases deviant activity such as excessive alcohol use and offending behavior among young adults. Drinking is found to be related to offending by increasing the magnitude of conflicts and increasing aggressive behaviors. Individuals under the influence of alcohol are less inhibited from stealing goods, engaging in risky sexual behavior, and starting fights. Drinking is also related to other forms of deviance such as self-harm and damaging property. Drinking at bars increases the chance that a person will operate a motor vehicle after drinking. In fact, in places such as the United States, driving to and from bars is considered normative by many—making the chances of an accident more likely in these cultures. However, it is not only drinking that increases the chance of deviance but also the mere fact that bars bring together individuals who may be looking for opportunities to offend (i.e., motivated offenders). Motivated offenders have been known to wait outside bars to attack or rob drunken patrons, who have diminished capability to defend themselves.

Parks and Unsupervised Areas

Disadvantaged neighborhoods often have a greater number of deviant places. One reason is that disadvantaged neighborhoods have a larger proportion of crowded homes, which pushes people outside and into places conducive to deviance—for example, parks and other unsupervised areas, such as corner stores and sports fields. Many parents do not restrict children to their homes, allowing them to congregate in these areas unsupervised. Therefore, instead of being at home or in close contact with adult neighbors, youth often retreat to parks and fields to spend their time. Just as bars and pubs are deviant places for older youth and young adults, parks and fields are often the equivalent for adolescents—they offer a place to spend time with one another and engage in inappropriate behavior, often out of sight of adequate supervision. Houses designed so that residents can see parks and other lots, along with who comes in and out of their neighborhood, have been successful in creating safer places.

Abandoned Buildings and Lots

Abandoned buildings and lots provide individuals with an unsupervised area to engage in deviance. The downturn in the housing market starting in the mid-2000s increased the number of abandoned buildings and has been linked with an increase in some deviant and criminal behaviors. For example, metal thefts have increased as offenders have targeted foreclosed and other abandoned buildings that provide opportunities to steal material to sell to scrap yards and recyclers. Abandoned areas are also disproportionately located in high-poverty areas, which carry their own risks for becoming deviant places. High-poverty areas tend to use land for shopping districts, warehouses, and parking lots, which are all crime attractors. Furthermore, these areas tend to lack adult supervision and other individuals in charge of keeping areas safe.

Hotels, Motels, and Public Housing

Due to the private nature of hotel/motel rooms, deviant activity is easy to hide in these places. Illicit drug use, deviant sexual activity, and other behaviors are well hidden in the privacy of individual rooms away from sources of social control. Also, public housing, such as high-rises and apartments, makes deviance more likely. First, high-rises and apartments make the street and neighborhood area less visible to residents, so it is more difficult to spot deviance when it happens. Second, apartments and other units that are not owned are more likely to be vacated or inhabited by a transient population that continually moves. This creates a situation where neighbors do not have the chance to get to know one another or create strong neighborhood bonds. Such bonds are important when it is necessary to come together in addressing deviance in the community. Residents who do not own their homes also have fewer vested interests in what goes on in and around their homes. Together, places that lack supervision or close ties among residents contribute to the continuation of deviance.

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Crime and deviance are concentrated to a high degree within the adolescent and young adult population. Deviance is also shown to cluster around places that bring together large numbers of people. Therefore, bringing together a large number of youth, as schools do, is certainly one way to elevate the risk of deviance at a particular place. Along with minor deviance, such as smoking, skipping class, and vandalism, schools are also hotbeds for violence. Fighting is shown to be prevalent during school hours in the hallways, classrooms, and recreation yards, and youth are most likely to be victimized just after school hours, when students are leaving to go home. School deviance is likely to be carried out in groups when youth are together with their friends.

Other Deviant Places

There are several other deviant places that are obvious (e.g., brothels, illegal gambling facilities) and less obvious (e.g., casinos, shopping malls, 24-hour convenience stores, ATMs). While places such as brothels and unlicensed gambling facilities are inherently illegal because of the activities they promote, they are also susceptible to other types of criminal behavior, such as drug use, sexual abuse, and violence. Places such as shopping malls, convenience stores, and casinos are common destinations for families and friends and not considered particularly deviant. However, they are often vulnerable to victimization and other criminal behavior. For example, shopping malls and casinos often have large parking lots with varying degrees of supervision. Thus, car break-ins and auto theft are greater in areas with less supervision. Individuals visiting shopping centers and ATMs are usually carrying money or other goods attractive to robbers and thieves. For these reasons, these locations often have elevated victimization counts.

Addressing Issues Surrounding Deviant Places

Due to the harm caused by some forms of deviant and criminal behavior at certain places, public policy officials, law enforcement, and community organizations have continued to address the problems facing these locations. These efforts are specifically concerned with preventing deviance; but they are also focused on ways to respond to areas that have been shown to be particularly deviant. One of the differences in this approach is that the emphasis is on places, not necessarily people. To prevent and intervene on deviant activity, the deviant place is the focal point as opposed to the deviant person. This section briefly discusses some of the strategies put in place to remedy problem behavior at deviant places.

Street Lighting and Closed-Circuit Television Cameras

One of the primary reasons why deviant places provide an opportunity for individuals to engage in unhealthy behavior is that they lack adequate supervision. While there are few strategies better for reducing poor behavior than direct supervision by a parent, security guard, or the police, other forms of indirect or informal supervision have been proven to be successful in reducing opportunities for deviance. Improving street lighting in dark parks, alleyways, and parking lots discourages deviant behavior such as drug dealing, sexual activity, and fighting by illuminating these areas for people to see. Individuals are much more reluctant to engage in deviant behavior when they believe that their chances of being seen are high. The use of closed-circuit television cameras is also a proven strategy for improving supervision and decreasing deviance. While expensive, these cameras reduce deviance by recording the activities of all individuals in a certain area. Individuals looking to engage in illegal or deviant behavior are dissuaded from doing so if they know that they are being recorded and that there is a chance that they may be caught in the act.

Hot-Spot Policing

The police play a role in reducing opportunities for deviance as well. One of the most popular strategies for policing deviance is hot-spot policing whereby the police target specific areas known for crime and delinquency. Deviant places are identified by the police themselves, using their knowledge of the community or the neighborhoods that they patrol, and, more recently, by crime analysts. Crime analysts use police data to identify locations high in deviance such as property crime, violent crime, and other crime, such as prostitution, drug use/selling, and underage drinking. This is closely linked to the concept of problem-oriented policing, which stresses that the police are responsible for reducing crime and other issues linked to crime—such as landlord disputes—as opposed to just arresting people. The idea behind hot-spot patrolling is that crime and delinquency can be prevented by dedicating resources to the most deviant areas, which produce the bulk of all unwanted activity.

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Community Organization

Community organization is found to be one of the most important factors in addressing deviance. Communities that produce strong ties between neighbors and a communal sense of trust are better able to prevent deviance because citizens are more willing to provide informal social control by stepping in when they see unwanted activity in the community. For example, drug use on street corners, graffiti on abandoned buildings, and street fighting tend to be less prevalent in neighborhoods where members intervene by calling the police, notifying the family members of youth who misbehave, and confronting the youth themselves. Researchers call the ability of citizens to regulate behavior in their community “collective efficacy.” Despite disadvantages such as poverty and lack of social resources, communities that are able to establish close ties among residents and are willing to intervene when they see deviant behavior are less likely to experience deviance.

Chad Posick

Further Readings

Barkan, S. E. (2000). Household crowding and aggregate crime rates. Journal of Crime & Justice, 23, 47–64.

Braga, A. A., Papachristos, A. V., & Hureau, D. M. (2012). The effect of hot spots policing on crime: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Justice Quarterly, 25. doi:10.1080/07418825.2012.673632

Eck, J. E., & Weisburd, D. (1995). Crime places in crime theory. In J. E. Eck & D. L. Weisburd (Eds.), Crime and place (pp. 1–33). Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

Felson, M., & Boba, R. (2010). Crime and everyday life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Miller, J. (2012). Individual offending, routine activities, and activity settings: Revisiting the routine activity theory of general deviance. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency. doi:10.1177/0022427811432641

Stark, R. (1987). Deviant places: A theory of the ecology of crime. Criminology, 25, 893–909.

Wilson, R. E., & Paulsen, D. J. (2010). A theoretical underpinning of neighborhood deterioration and the onset of long-term crime problems from foreclosure s (Working Paper No. 230450). Rockville, MD: National Institute of Justice.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX6501000092