For dog owners, walking your pet is a common occurrence. But by doing so, you may be helping prevent crime in your neighborhood.
New research published in the peer-reviewed journal Social Forces suggests neighborhoods with high trust amongst their residents – and with more dogs violent in the neighborhood – have significantly less street crime than in neighborhoods with fewer dogs, said Nicolo Pinchak, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University.
In an additional finding, neighborhoods with more dogs had fewer property crimes, regardless of neighborhood trust level. “This is plausibly because the deterrence benefits of visible dogs and dog barking aren’t as dependent on intervention norms or street monitoring,” Pinchak told USA TODAY in an email.
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Researchers have suspected neighborhoods can deter crime by being observant – think neighbors watch programs – and developing trusting relationships among themselves. But quantifying neighborhood surveillance hasn’t been easy.
“We thought that dog walking probably captures that pretty well, which is one reason why we decided to do this study,” study co-author Christopher Browning, a professor of sociology at Ohio State, said in a news story about the research on the university’s website.
The research team, which included others at Ohio State and at the University of Texas, Austin, studied 2014-2016 crime data for Columbus, Ohio, and used marketing survey data gathered in the city in 2013 to estimate dog ownership in neighborhoods. Then, to measure neighborhood trust, they used data from the Adolescent Health and Development in Context study, run by Browning. In that study, participants (average age about 45) rated to what extent “people on the streets can be trusted” in their neighborhoods. The researchers also factored in socioeconomic status.
Their results found that trusting neighborhoods with more dogs tended to have significantly lower rates of homicide, robbery “and, to a lesser extent, aggravated assaults” compared with areas with fewer dogs, the study said.
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Neighborhoods that build trust and watch out for one another get reinforced “crime-deterrent benefits,” Pinchak said. “It’s not enough for residents to just be taking walks in their neighborhood – there has to be trust among residents to foster deterrence and intervention norms. It’s similarly not enough for residents to just trust one another – people have to actually be present to identify problems and intervening.”
The new research confirms some previous findings that suggest “any measures … that get people out in the community (and) talking to their neighbors, is a deterrent against crime,” said Paul DelPonte, executive director of the National Crime Prevention Council and home of McGruff the Crime Dog, whose slogan is “Take a bite out of crime.”
Those who walk their dogs could “extrapolate (this new research) and say that even your own dog can help take a bit out of crime,” he said.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.