November 27, 2022

Giving pawse to wrongdoers: neighborhoods with more dogs experience less crime

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Man’s best friend seems to be one of man’s best deterrents against bad behavior, according to new research.

Giving Pawse To Wrongdoers: Neighborhoods With More Dogs Experience Less Crime
Image via Pixabay.

A new study from the US finds that neighborhoods with more dogs and residents that had higher levels of trust in each other had lower rates of crime such as homicide, robberies, and aggravated assaults. The authors conclude that such neighborhoods have more “eyes on the street” as people need to walk their dogs, and this increased scrutiny can work to discourage crime.

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“People walking their dogs are essentially patrolling their neighborhoods,” says Nicolo Pinchak, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University. “They see when things are not right, and when there are suspect outsiders in the area. It can be a crime deterrent.”

It’s safe to say that we can all intuitively understand that closer-knit communities, whose individuals can place a high level of trust in their peers and work together to provide neighborhood surveillance, make less-inviting targets for crime. Past research has also shown that trusting one’s neighbors plays an important role in deterring crime, as it provides mutual support when needed and a sense of “collective efficacy” that benefits the community.

But despite this, we didn’t have any reliable measurement of exactly how residents can provide surveillance of their neighborhoods. The team set out to quantify this, identifying dog-walking as a likely proxy for such behavior.

For the study, the researchers looked at recorded crime statistics from 2014 to 2016 across 595 census block groups in the Columbus area. Each such block is roughly equivalent to a neighborhood. Data on dog walking was obtained from a marketing firm, whose surveys asked residents in the area whether they had a dog in their household. Finally, data on the general levels of trust people place in their neighborhoods was obtained from the Adolescent Health and Development in Context study; as part of this study — which is run by one of the co-authors of this paper — residents were asked to rate how much they agreed with the statement that “people on the streets can be trusted” in their neighborhoods.

The findings did confirm that neighborhoods with high levels of trust had overall lower levels of homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault compared with areas that reported low levels of trust. But even among these high-trust areas, those that had a high number of dogs showed a further drop in crime compared to those that housed fewer dogs. The first saw one-third fewer robberies and only half the homicides of those with fewer dogs, the team explains. And, it mostly comes down to dog walking.

“Trust doesn’t help neighborhoods as much if you don’t have people out there on the streets noticing what is going on. That’s what dog walking does,” Pinchak said.  “When people are out walking their dogs, they have conversations, they pet each other’s dogs.  Sometimes they know the dog’s name and not even the owners.  They learn what’s going on and can spot potential problems.”

Crimes like homicides and robberies are known as ‘street crimes’ because they tend to occur most in public spaces such as streets or sidewalks. Dog-walking and community trust were very effective at limiting the incidence of such crimes, as the research showed. But the number of dogs in a community also helped reduce the incidence of property crimes such as burglaries no matter the levels of community trust. This is most likely due to the fact that a visible dog, as well as their barking, act as powerful discouraging factors for criminals considering a certain building; in this cases, community surveillance is not a meaningful factor.

The effect of dogs and community trust on local crime incidence was still visible even when taking into account other factors related to crime, such as the proportion of young males in the neighborhood, residential instability, and socioeconomic status.

“There has already been a lot of research that shows dogs are good for the health and well-being of their human companions,” Pinchak said. “Our study adds another reason why dogs are good for us.”

The paper “Paws on the Street: Neighborhood-Level Concentration of Households with Dogs and Urban Crime” has been published in the journal Social Forces.