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Researchers have argued that closing neighborhood streets and alleys can prevent crime because there is a relationship between street access and crime rates. The details of the argument are as follows:
Research findings are generally consistent with this theory:
Ornate gated entrances to private streets, such as these in St. Louis, can effectively control crime problems, but are not feasible for most crime prevention initiatives.
The rationale for closing streets and alleys in a particular neighborhood is that outsiders commit much of the crime there, either going there specifically to do so or doing so when passing through. But research shows that criminals typically offend quite close to home, so before closing streets, you should check arrest records to make sure that most of the active criminals in the neighborhood are not residents. Otherwise, you cannot justify the closings. If you find that a high proportion of those arrested are indeed outsiders, you then have another worry to deal with: What if the closures do not stop these criminals, but simply displace them elsewhere in your jurisdiction? What have you gained?
In fact, displacement can be advantageous if it stops the neighborhood from reaching a tipping point,6 when minor crimes build up to produce a much more serious problem (the familiar broken windows process). If you prevent the neighborhood from reaching this tipping point, then the savings to the city as a whole will be much greater than the costs of displacement to other neighborhoods. But try telling that to the residents of those other neighborhoods! Fortunately, you wont need to, because research generally shows that displacement is by no means inevitable. Most research shows that if it occurs at all, the crimes displaced are far fewer in number than those prevented.7 This is because some neighborhoods are so attractive to criminals and so full of criminal opportunities that they actually foster crime. It is wrong to think that criminals commit only a certain restricted number of crimes in a specific time period, and stop once they reach those limits. On the contrary, criminals will commit as many crimes as they have the time and energy for, if the crimes are easy to commit, low risk, and profitable. When these conditions change and the rewards of crime decline, or the risks and effort necessary increase, criminals will lower their expectationsas we all must do when opportunities for gain are reduced. This means that street closures do not inevitably result in displacement, and that they can reduce the overall volume of crime.8
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