Community and the Crime Decline: The Causal Effect of Local Nonprofits on Violent Crime

American Sociological Review, 2017 (with Patrick Sharkey and Delaram Takyar)

Abstract: Largely overlooked in the theoretical and empirical literature on the crime decline is a long tradition of research in criminology and urban sociology that considers how violence is regulated through informal sources of social control arising from residents and organizations internal to communities. In this article, we incorporate the “systemic” model of community life into debates on the U.S. crime drop, and we focus on the role that local nonprofit organizations played in the national decline of violence from the 1990s to the 2010s. Using longitudinal data and a strategy to account for the endogeneity of nonprofit formation, we estimate the causal effect on violent crime of nonprofits focused on reducing violence and building stronger communities. Drawing on a panel of 264 cities spanning more than 20 years, we estimate that every 10 additional organizations focusing on crime and community life in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 9 percent reduction in the murder rate, a 6 percent reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 4 percent reduction in the property crime rate.

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Replication Files

Data and code are available at Harvard Dataverse. They can also be downloaded here.

Press Coverage

How community gardens and block associations help stem urban violence.” Curbed. February 27, 2018.
Who deserves credit for the decades-long drop in violent crime in the Twin Cities? Among others, community organizations.” Minnesota Post. November 28, 2017.
The unsung role that ordinary citizens played in the Great Crime Decline.” The New York Times. November 9, 2017.