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The Neighborhood Context of Drugs and Violence: Examining Drug Abuse, Drug Activity, and Violent Crime

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Criminal justice and public health researchers and practitioners have long acknowledged that drugs and violence are related; the nature of that relationship, however, has been less understood. This lack of understanding stems partly from tendency on the part of these researchers and practitioners to neglect the role of neighborhood context in shaping drug-related outcomes. Using public health and public safety data aggregated to 0.25-mile “egohoods” in a suburban research setting (unincorporated Miami-Dade County), this dissertation was carried out in three studies: (1) an ecological regression analysis of drug abuse using toxicology reports on accidental drug deaths from 2013 to 2017, (2) a longitudinal analysis of drug activity using calls to the police on suspected drug law violations from 2007 to 2015, and (3) a longitudinal analysis of violent crime using police reports on robbery and aggravated assault victimizations from 2007 to 2015.

The first empirical study developed and tested a conceptual model that helped explain why drug abuse might vary across neighborhoods in a community. This epidemiological model integrated theoretical insights from the following criminological perspectives: social disorganization, relative deprivation, immigration revitalization, social institutions, and drug enforcement.

The second empirical study proposed an ecological model that treated drug activity as a static and dynamic characteristic of neighborhoods. This model suggested that whereas ecological continuity in neighborhood drug crime could be due to agglomeration effects (i.e., retail market dynamics), ecological discontinuity could be due to structural effects (i.e., social disorganization) and situational effects (i.e., neighborhood disorder). At the same time, the effects of neighborhood disorder and disorganization on change in drug crime can be conditioned by the criminal opportunity afforded to offenders by the neighborhood-built environment.

The third empirical study added to the burgeoning body of research on neighborhoods, drugs, and violence by postulating that the geographic fluidity of neighborhood drug markets could have long-term consequences for violent crime rates. The following research propositions were proposed and tested: (a) drug activity can account for year-over-year change in the rate of violence among neighborhoods in an area; (b) drug activity can be one explanation for why “violence begets violence”; and (c) drug activity’s effect on change in neighborhood violent crime might depend on economic deprivation, a “root cause” of aggregate violence.

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This item is under embargo until July 14, 2027.