Fear of Crime and the Neighbourhood Context in Canadian Cities

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By Robin Fitzgerald, Statistics Canada , Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics

Numerous studies have observed that the negative consequences of crime extend beyond crime victims themselves (Gardner 2008; Sacco 1995). In particular, fear of crime has been identified as a widespread social problem that can influence individuals' health and well-being, and at a broader level, can influence the quality of life in local communities by limiting interaction and trust among residents (Conklin 1975; Ross 1993; Skogan 1990).

Much of the current Canadian research has been aimed at understanding the characteristics of individuals who are at greatest risk of experiencing fear of crime. A consistent finding in this work is that, on average, women and older Canadians report higher levels of fear in local communities (Sacco 1995). Other research suggests that women and older people experience higher levels of fear of crime regardless of income, education, or personal experiences of victimization (Garofalo and Laub 1978).

More recently, research on American cities suggests that it may also be important to consider the neighbourhood context in attempting to understand patterns of fear of crime in Canada for two reasons. First, some aspects of the social and economic conditions of neighbourhoods may be directly related to individuals' behaviours and perceptions, regardless of their own personal characteristics (Sampson, Raudenbush and Earls 1997). Second, individuals' perceptions of the level of crime and 'social disorder' in the neighbourhood, (i.e., perceived signs of 'incivilities' such as prostitution, drug addicts, loitering, vandalism, etc.), may explain variations in levels of fear even after accounting for neighbourhood and individual characteristics (Wyant 2008).

The aim of this study is to present information about the extent to which fear of crime differs across neighbourhoods in Canadian urban areas, and to assess whether the characteristics of individuals and/or neighbourhoods explain this variation.

Using data from the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization and the 2001 Census, this study addresses these issues by taking into account information about both the individual- and neighbourhood-level at the same time. This is accomplished through multilevel regression modelling techniques, a necessary strategy to address the statistical complications that arise when individuals are clustered within larger units such as neighbourhoods (see 'Multilevel analysis' in the Methodology section).

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