Previous studies have confirmed that places of worship cultivate social connections and collective efforts towards the betterment of the community, which implies that such locations can diminish criminal activity in the surrounding areas.
Nevertheless, only a limited number of investigations have explored the assumed crime-reducing effect of places of worship.
According to a new analysis of crime data in the vicinity of numerous places of worship in Washington, D.C., these establishments appear to be linked to heightened rates of both violent and property-related offenses, even when controlling for other variables typically associated with criminal behavior.
Today, the findings of the study were published by James Wo of the University of Iowa in the journal PLOS ONE.
In this study, Wo did a statistical analysis of crime and neighborhood data that was available to the public for the areas right around 742 places of worship in Washington, D.C.
The study showed that places of worship were linked to more violent and property crimes in the area around them. Even after taking into account different sociodemographic factors and other things that are often linked to crime, like being close to bars, liquor stores, check-cashing stores, and D.C. metro stations, this link remained.
These results are consistent with data from two previous studies that suggested places of worship can inadvertently increase crime. Further investigation is required to determine the mechanism by which this might happen, but it’s possible that places of worship have high foot traffic but a weak capacity to monitor and control public activity, increasing the likelihood that potential offenders might take advantage of the opportunity to commit crimes against targets with poor security.
The author emphasizes that these results do not discount the beneficial effects of places of worship or religion. But they say that places of worship should be thought of as risk factors for neighborhood crime if police policies and efforts to reduce crime are to be accurate.
To confirm and broaden these results, future studies may track changes in crime rates before and after the construction or closure of houses of worship.
Places of worship may have a moderating influence on crime, however, this may be determined by collecting data at the neighborhood level on social capital, civic involvement, foot traffic (or the ambient population), and anonymity.
Researchers could also look at other cities in the U.S. and around the world to see if they have similar patterns.
“Findings should not be interpreted as an indictment on religion or places of worship (POW), adds the author.
“Rather, they highlight POW as an unexpected ecological risk factor for neighborhood crime, similar to how shopping malls, central business districts, restaurants, and retail stores have been deemed to operate as crime generators.”
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