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'Problem Properties' Crackdowns Can Reduce Crime: Study

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Adding to the evidence that "place-based" enforcement can reduce crime by targeting specific trouble spots, a new study shows that in its first decade of operation, Boston's Problem Properties Task Force reduced crime by cracking down on the managers of crime-magnet properties.

Although many studies have shown the effectiveness of targeted policing and removing blight in vacant properties, the new study by researchers at Northeastern University's Boston Area Research Initiative and published in the journal Criminology claims to be the first of its kind to evaluate a type of program increasingly popular in U.S. cities addressing troublesome buildings in active use.

“Problem property interventions are distinctive because they target a place and incentivize those legally responsible to improve its management,” said Daniel T. O’Brien, professor of public policy and urban affairs and criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University, who led the study. “We wanted to see if such interventions work.”

The study evaluated the Boston program's dual goals of reducing crime and disorder at specific places while changing the behavior of negligent property owners. The crime-reduction goal was achieved, not just in the targeted properties but nearby as well.

It also succeeded in giving property owners incentives to manage their properties better, by investing in improvements, or to sell their properties. But those incentives did not appear to work on owners at their other properties.

"Problem property interventions embody the concept of governments acting as 'super controllers' who can incentivize or otherwise motivate property owners to act as better caretakers," the paper states.

Few studies previously evaluated such problem-property abatement programs. The authors of this study said its findings need to be replicated in other cities to strengthen the evidence that such a strategy works.


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