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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Protecting Against Transit Crime: The Importance of the Built Environment

  • Author(s): Liggett, Robin;
  • Loukaitou-Sideris, Anastasia;
  • Iseki, Hiroyuki
  • et al.

This chapter deals with an important citizen right: the ability to walk from home or work to the transit stop, or wait at a bus stop or on a station platform without the fear of being victimized. Crime and fear of crime unfortunately affect many aspects of everyday life in our cities. Transit crime is a rather persistent but underreported trend that scares and intimidates riders – particularly women. The majority of incidents represent public nuisance crimes. The majority of the victims are captive transit riders, frequently immigrant and poor. In Los Angeles some of the victims are even afraid to report transit crimes to the authorities lest they expose their illegal-resident status.

In this chapter, we want to argue that planners and policy makers need to often scratch beyond the surface of official numbers and crime statistics. At the same time, relying on one theory to understand a complex urban phenomenon, such as crime, may often prove inadequate. In our case, we found two seemingly antithetical theories useful, but still needing validation with empirical data: compositional theories that cast attention on offenders, and ecological theories that focus on the context of crime. We discovered that to understand a problem that is largely invisible to authorities, we had to rely not only on crime reports but also extensive fieldwork, to combine quantitative and qualitative techniques, and go from the macro to the micro, from census data to first-hand observation, and surveys of riders.

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