Fear of Crime and Quality of Life in Anchorage

Matthew Giblin

Giblin, Matthew J. (Winter 2003). "Fear of Crime and Quality of Life in Anchorage." Alaska Justice Forum 19(4): 6-8. During Spring 2002, the Justice Center conducted the Anchorage Adult Criminal Victimization Survey (AACVS) to gather data from residents about their experiences with crime as well as their perceptions of their neighborhoods, the city, and the local police. This article, first of a series to present highlights from the survey, addresses perceptions of neighborhood and city quality of life, neighborhood conditions, and fear of crime among Anchorage respondents.

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During Spring 2002, the Justice Center conducted the Anchorage Adult Criminal Victimization Survey (AACVS) to gather data from residents about their experiences with crime as well as their perceptions of their neighborhoods, the city, and the local police. The Alaska Justice Forum plans to present highlights from the survey over several issues. This first article in the series will address perceptions of neighborhood and city quality of life, neighborhood conditions, and fear of crime.

Methodology

The AACVS instrument was an almost exact replica of the instrument used in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data collection program, which began in 1973. The NCVS questions are comprehensive, addressing both violent and property victimizations regardless of whether the victimizations were actually reported to law enforcement. The Anchorage survey included an additional series of questions based on the COPS Addendum of the U.S. Department of Justice, Community-Oriented Policing Services. These included items pertaining to fear of crime, quality of life, perceptions of the police, and personal safety measures.

The survey was administered between April 1, 2002 and June 30, 2002 to residents of Anchorage; eligible respondents were residents age 18 or older contacted via a household (non-business) line. Telephone calls were primarily made on weekdays between 10:00 AM and 9:00 PM, although calls were generally not made during the dinner hours between 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM. A random-digit dialing (RDD) method that generates numbers using a computer program was used to make calls. Use of this method increased the likelihood that the residents surveyed were, in fact, representative of Anchorage residents, since each household with a telephone had an equal chance of being contacted.

Interviewers explained the purpose of the study to potential respondents in each household, guaranteed confidentiality, and asked for participation. It should be noted that households were randomly called, but no random selection of individuals within households occurred. While such randomization was attempted in the first few days of survey administration, interviewers quickly realized that the number of callbacks necessary to secure an interview with a randomly selected respondent would be both time and cost prohibitive. Participating respondents within a household were selected simply based on who was willing to answer the survey questions (in most cases this was the individual answering the telephone). The overall survey cooperation rate (number of completed interviews divided by the sum of completed interviews, refusals, terminations, hearing/language problems, and respondent unavailable) was approximately 60 percent, based on a total of 781 secured interviews.

As shown in Table 1, a comparison of AACVS respondent characteristics and Anchorage Census 2000 data shows strong similarities, but two key differences are worth noting. First, AACVS respondents were disproportionately female. Second, a smaller proportion of AACVS respondents reported household incomes of $50,000 or more, although this difference is likely due to the larger number of respondents who refused to answer the income question.

Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of AACVS Respondents and Municipality of Anchorage Residents Based on Census 2000

Neighborhood and City Quality of Life

All respondents were asked to identify their level of satisfaction with the quality of life in their neighborhood and in their city. Overall, more than 92 percent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of life in their neighborhood, while more than 86 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of life in the city. The ratings were based on a four-point scale (very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, satisfied, very satisfied), with four indicating the highest level of satisfaction. Note in Table 2 that although residents were generally satisfied, their mean rating for satisfaction with the quality of life in the city (3.03) was considerably lower than their rating for neighborhood quality of life (3.35). In other words, as a group, the respondents were more satisfied with the quality of life within their neighborhoods than they were with the quality of life in the city as a whole (p<.001).

Table 2. Mean Respondent Ratings for Satisfaction with Quality of Life

While overall satisfaction levels were high, several significant differences across demographic characteristics emerged in the data. With regard to city quality of life, males (3.10) were more satisfied than females (3.00, p<.05); white respondents (3.08) were more satisfied than Alaska Native/American Indian respondents (2.77, p<.01); and those with higher household incomes were more satisfied than those with lower household incomes (p<.05). Significant differences were also found in ratings of neighborhood quality of life. Younger respondents were less satisfied with neighborhood quality of life than older respondents (p<.001), and respondents with higher household incomes were more satisfied than those with lower household incomes (p<.05).

Neighborhood Conditions

A series of questions in the COPS Addendum portion of the AACVS asked respondents whether or not disorderly conditions existed in their neighborhood. These conditions included disorderly behaviors (illegal public drinking/drug use, public drug sales, prostitution, panhandling/begging, loitering/hanging out, truancy, transients or homeless sleeping on streets or benches) and disorderly conditions (abandoned cars/buildings, rundown/neglected buildings, poor lighting, overgrown shrubs/trees, trash, empty lots, vandalism or graffiti). The most commonly cited condition, identified by 23 percent of respondents, was poor neighborhood lighting. Other common conditions included empty lots (19.1%), illegal public drinking/drug use (19.1%), vandalism/graffiti (18.8%), loitering/hanging out (18.4%), overgrown trees and shrubs (17.9%), rundown/neglected buildings (15.4%), trash (15.1%), truancy (15.1%), and abandoned cars/buildings (14.1%). Less common were transients/homeless sleeping on streets or benches (10.6%), panhandling/begging (10.2%), public drug sales (8.6%), and prostitution (4.9%).

Neighborhood and City Fear of Crime

Survey respondents were asked several questions concerning their level of fear in their neighborhood and the city. Once again, a four-point scale (not at all fearful, not very fearful, somewhat fearful, very fearful) was used; higher mean scores indicate higher levels of fear. As shown in Table 3, respondents indicated that they were not overly fearful of crime in their neighborhood. The mean rating (1.91) was very close to “not very fearful” on the four-point scale. Only about 1 in 5 respondents (20.5%) acknowledged being very fearful or somewhat fearful of crime in their neighborhood. The analysis revealed that female respondents were more fearful than male respondents (p<.01). In addition, the large number of respondents answering “don’t know” to the household income question (n=36) had significantly lower levels of fear than respondents in other income categories. Finally, Alaska Natives/American Indians exhibited more neighborhood fear than other racial groups (p<.05).

Table 3. Mean Respondent Ratings for Fear of Crime

Respondents’ level of fear in their city (2.41) was higher than respondent level of fear in their neighborhood (1.91), with the differences statistically significant (p<.001). Nearly half (46.6%) of all respondents expressed some fear (either somewhat fearful or very fearful) about crime in their city. Again, female respondents reported higher levels of fear than male respondents (p<.001). Respondents with household incomes in the $10,000-$19,999 and $30,000-$39,999 categories also reported higher levels of fear in the city (p<.05).

This brief descriptive analysis suggests that most Anchorage residents are satisfied with the quality of life in their city and neighborhood and are not generally fearful of crime. It will be possible to conduct more sophisticated analyses with the survey data in order to examine relationships between variables. For example, what factors affect respondent fear? Do disorderly conditions in a respondent’s neighborhood cause them to express more fear about crime?

The complete results of this analysis will be available in a final report later this spring. Matthew Giblin is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at York College of Pennsylvania. From 2000 to 2002, he was a research associate with the Justice Center.