|Photos of victims who were found in the Texas Killing Fields|
Anyways, at one point in the show, a detective reflected on how this area was an ideal place for someone to do evil. He described how The Killing Fields were immediately next to a freeway, providing offenders easy access to a dark and dense area where they could rape/torture/kill/dump bodies without ever being seen. In other words, the local environment provided a kind of "natural cover" for criminals to do/get away with crimes that would be more difficult to do in other environments.
|A movie adaptation of the area|
During this part of the show, I started to think about the different ways in which local environments create opportunities for people to commit/get away with crime. Although I disagree with some aspects of the theory, Wilson and Kelling's highly cited "Broken Window's" theory is one version of how social scientists have been thinking about the local environment's role in crimes. For those who are unfamiliar, the Broken Windows theory basically suggests that criminals are more likely to commit crimes in areas that look dilapidated and unkempt. At the heart, the Broken Windows Theory is an interpretive theory of crime; criminals assess local environments and choose particular areas in which they feel that they can get away with things. A dilapidated and bombed out community with broken windows signals that residents in the area are less likely to intervene or even care that different kinds of crimes are occurring in their area.
Over time, the Broken Windows theory has been replaced by more systematic analyses that link environmental characteristics and crime (see Robert Sampson and Stephen Raudenbush's pioneering work), but the Broken Windows theory has still had a tremendous influence on policymaking, particularly as it relates to community redevelopment/gentrification. Policymakers feel that if they can put various amenities into down and out areas (e.g. coffee shops, community centers, mixed-income housing), that they can create an environment that is unfriendly to criminal activity. While gentrification is typically condemned in social science circles--particularly amongst the more liberal factions of social scientists--policymakers and law enforcement maintain that these methods are proven ways to decrease crime. Critics, meanwhile, argue that redevelopment/gentrification often displaces the most vulnerable populations and also simply encourages criminals to relocate where they commit crime.
|Natural Cover in the vast Texas Killing Fields|
In the end, I feel that there is really strange tension between law enforcement/policymakers and social scientists on the issue of redevelopment/gentrification. Both sides seem to agree that crime is a bad thing and that the best research/policymaking should figure out how to reduce crime and increase community safety. But, in spite of this shared sentiment, both sides are typically very far apart when it comes to redevelopment/gentrification. My sense is that empiricism isn't the only thing separating these two views on the environment. It would be nice if politics didn't prevent various parties from coming together and developing testable and replicable strategies to design environments that discourage crime.