Another Tale of Two Cities*
Neighborhood Watch:  from Ann Arbor to Baghdad

Sandra L. Arlinghaus
Fall, 2007

In Ann Arbor, a number of variables underlie the success of the neighborhood watch program.  Recently, this program celebrated its 40th year (or so).  The crime rate in Ann Arbor is low.  Indeed, in 2003, Ann Arbor was voted, in a journalistic poll, the safest city in the U.S.A. for a single woman to live in.  There are no doubt many reasons for this, including the care taken by the local police department.
  1. Climatic and weather systems, including the water cycle, may relate to patterns in crime.  In cold, snowy weather, crime is not as easy.  In the hot summer months, many local residents head north.  The pleasant weather in a city with fewer inhabitants than it has during the rest of the year may make summers in Ann Arbor times of higher crimes of certain sorts (such as breaking and enterings).  To test ideas such as this one, crime reports are displayed here in Google Earth.  They are organized on an annual basis and within each year on a monthly basis.  Thus, the reader may make interactive use of the files, viewing both space and time together to look for pattern.
  2. Terrain and topographic formation may serve to shelter homes and offer hiding places for equipment to be used in crimes or for criminal activity itself.  Because  terrain is visible in Google Earth, once again the reader may interactively look for crime pattern in relation to terrain.
  3. Population settlements and movements--in Ann Arbor, much of the population is present only for nine months of the year--the student population.  Neighborhood Watch may remain relatively constant in size while the population base of Ann Arbor shifts on a seasonal basis.  One might look for corresponding shifts in crime patterns.
  4. Family establishment--caring for ones neighbor is a simple conceptual extension of caring for ones family.  The neighborhood is a "family" at a more global scale.
  5. Political institutions' operations control the amount of funding allocated to programs such as Neighborhood Watch.  They are the fiscal life of these programs.
  6. Social institutions' operations may control the local success of neighborhood watch programs.  Some neighborhoods may see such programs as extensions of family and may warmly embrace them.  Others may view these programs as having a "big brother" component and reject them out of hand.  For the latter groups, a program such as that provided by i-neighbors may offer some support while appearing less invasive.
  7. Economic institutions' operation including land use systems' operation--parcel size can influence the effectiveness of a watch program.  Smaller parcels mean denser living.  Denser living may mean ease in monitoring the actions of a neighborhood but there it may also mean a corresponding increase in targets of crime (just in sheer numbers).  An important component here is to include the road network as part of the land use system.  Freeways offer quick and easy in/out for car theft and other crimes.  Consider the pattern of car theft in Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, for example.  The City of Ann Arbor GIS street files were uploaded to overlay on Google Earth.  Thus, names of all streets can be seen on Google Earth.
This GEOMAT includes a number of different formats for displaying evidence:
  1. Maps show the features of the areas where significant events took place.  Google Earth is well-suited to this task.  See the accompanying Google Earth file that shows annual crime patterns on a month by month basis.  This file can be used interactively by the reader to switch on or off crime records from different months of recent years.
  2. Calendrical timelines showing the sequence of different kinds of events at appropriate scales.  Nested time lines, particularly in the case of Ann Arbor where the time span is longer than it is in Baghdad, offer a spatially and temporally sequential view of events.
  3. Identification of specific events, especially landmark events which irrevocably changed the situation being chronicled by the case study.  There is a possible close association between the Detroit riots of 1967 and the establishment of neighborhood watch in Ann Arbor.  That association is undocumented but might make a fine topic for further research, including the impact of weather in Detroit, as well as a variety of other issues.  The bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, triggered heightened emphasis on Neighborhood Watch programs throughout the U.S.A. and certainly in Ann Arbor.
  4. Biographies, accounts, and images of human actors--numerous reports of criminal activity, as well as accounts of how and where the crimes occurred, are present in this GEOMAT.  The pattern of association of actors in Ann Arbor, shortly after the 9/11 incident, is shown in a Java Applet that displays connectivity among individuals.  The general pattern is one that shows efficiently in linkage through the use of electronic networks.
  5. Reports about and images of other actors such as plants, animals, landscape features, terrain, mineral deposits, productive land use, weather and climate.  Crime reports often include detailed information not only about the suspect and the victim but also about the setting in which the crime occurred as well as the time of day.  Again, crimes may tend to be more frequent in good weather and so the reporting of crimes, separated by month, might suggest pattern.
  6. Arrays of archival documents, records of messages exchanged, oral history accounts and contemporary images.  The oral history of Adele El Ayoubi, Neighborhood Watch Coordinator for the Ann Arbor Police Department sets the stage for the presentation of evidence in the GEOMAT form.  The GEOMAT is filled with detailed crime reports exchanged between El Ayoubi and Ann Arbor Neighborhood Watch Block captains.  These are actual records compiled over a period of time.
  7. Accounts of, documents and images from contemporary settlements such as cities, towns, villages, resorts.  Google Earth offers an array of interesting images surrounding different crime scenes.  GIS software also offers other evidence and has been used by AAPD in the solution of crimes.
  8. Documents and images from archeological sites and records of past settlements.  Some past settlement patterns in Ann Arbor have created "brownfields"; these are lands that are difficult to develop and may lay barren or may have vacated buildings on them.  These lands might serve as an interesting topic for future research in relation to crime patterns.