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Study finds inverse relationship between foot traffic and crime

"With brick and mortar retail in dramatic decline, the question now is: Will the loss of those stores lead to a meaningful increase in criminal activity?" asked researcher Tom Chang said.

By Brooks Hays
Study finds inverse relationship between foot traffic and crime
When businesses close, nearby crime rates increase, new research shows. Photo by USC Photo/Susanica Tam

July 20 (UPI) -- Researchers in California have identified a strong inverse correlation between foot traffic and crime. The more foot traffic, the more eyes on the street, the lower the rates of crime.

The correlation was discovered by a pair of researchers from California who set out to study the impacts of marijuana dispensaries on crime.

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In 2010, in response to public concerns over a supposed link between pot dispensaries and crime, the Los Angeles City Council voted to curb the number of business permits to dispensaries. Roughly two-thirds of the city's dispensaries closed. After a barrage of complaints from patients and patrons, the city council reneged and many dispensaries reopened.

Tom Chang, an assistant professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California, wanted to find out whether marijuana dispensaries were actually a magnate for criminal behavior.

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When Chang looked at rates of nearby crime during the 10 days before and after the opening and closing dates of dispensaries, he found crime rates went up during the periods when the dispensaries were shuttered.

"I was surprised to find that crime actually increased around closed dispensaries," Chang said in a news release. "If the press covered all the crimes that happen outside a family restaurant, then we might think that they were crime magnets, too."

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Inspired by his initial findings, Chang and research partner Mireille Jacobson, a health economist at the University of California, Irvine, looked at how restaurant closures impacted crime rates.

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The pair of researchers analyzed crime rates near 888 restaurants before and after the establishments were forced to close as a result of a health code violation. The majority of the restaurants reopened just two days later after the health code violation was rectified.

Their findings -- published this week in the Journal of Urban Economics -- against showed instances of crime, especially property crime, increased during the days when the restaurants were closed.

Deeper analysis showed neighborhoods with a scarcity of businesses and poor walkability suffered the greatest rise in crime when dispensaries and restaurants closed.

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"With brick and mortar retail in dramatic decline, the question now is: Will the loss of those stores lead to a meaningful increase in criminal activity?" Chang said. "Our study gives us reason to suspect that could happen."

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