Spatial and Social Processes of Homicide: Bringing Offenders and Victims Together in Watts (1980-2000)

Elizabeth Anne Griffiths, University of Toronto
George Tita, University of California, Irvine

The purpose of this research is to demonstrate the usefulness of the spatial typology in interpreting changes in the social organization of homicides over the last two decades in the LAPD's Southeast Policing area - an area that includes the neighborhood of Watts and an area that often leads the city in total homicides and incorporates well established drug markets, dense public housing and urban street gangs. Borrowing from the development of Mobility Triangles - a truly spatial variable based upon the place of residence of the offender, place of residence of the victim and the location of the event - we employ the spatial typology of homicide conceptualized by Tita and Cohen (2001) to a richer, more diverse set of data. As noted by Rand (1986), "One of the deficiencies in criminological literature has been the practice of ignoring the spatial elements of illegal behavior. Traditional criminological research has utilized geographical locations only as proxies for the social characteristics of an area, overlooking the value of spatial variables. The omission has created a serious gap in our understanding of crime and victimization." By categorizing homicides using this typology, it is expected that important patterns will emerge that will permit the examination of three important questions. First, do the characteristics of homicide (especially participant attributes and motive) differ significantly across the various categories of the spatial typology? Second, do the characteristics of place (demographic characteristics and land use) influence the relative distribution of spatial homicide types across neighborhoods? And finally, how are these proportions influenced by both demographic changes in communities like racial succession, and social policy changes in communities like those promoting the racial desegregation of public schools and public housing over time?

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Updated 05/20/2006