Collective Response to Subjective Crime in a Small Iowa Town: The Case of the River Park Neighborhood Association

Brian Agnitsch, Marshalltown Community College
Kerry Agnitsch, Iowa State University
Mike Johnson, Valparaiso University
Gayle Randolph, Neosha County Community College

This paper reports on the results of a qualitative community case study. We set out to gain some sort of interpretive understanding of a neighborhood watch group--the "River Park Neighborhood Association (RPNA)--in the small mid-western community of "River Park," Iowa. Our original research question involved understanding how rural crime led to collective community action in a small rural community. We decided that it was unusual for a town like River Park, with low crime, to have a crime watch group. The total sample consists of 22 people--6 neighborhood association members, 9 "regular citizens," and 7 city officials. Using semi-structured interviews, we found that both RPNA members and non-members were not very fearful of crime, nor did they perceive a high risk of being the victim of a crime in their town. however, the members were noticeably more generally concerned with crime. Official data shows a very low objective crime rate. Further, members seemed to have a heightened sensitivity to signs of incivility present in their town--run-down buildings, graffiti, children wearing "gang-colored" clothing, etc., and performed many community improvement activities. We explain the CLNA's collective action as a defense of an ideal sense of place more than a direct effort to reduce crime.

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Updated 05/20/2006