Are Drug-Related Crime Rates Lower In Affluent Neighborhoods?

By Paul Gaita 01/30/19

A new study suggests that the socioeconomic makeup of a neighborhood may not affect the rate of drug-related crimes or criminal offenses.

residents of an affluent neighborhood walking their dog

New research suggests that the socioeconomic makeup of a neighborhood does not appear to have any effect on the level of drug-related crime in that area.

An analysis of crime and census data of a suburban area with an average annual income of $74,000 found that residential stability did not reduce the level of narcotics trafficking or high-level criminal offenses that, according to the study authors, often accompany such activity.

The authors also suggested that focusing police activity on a single area might dispel crime in that location, but it would also displace dealers and related criminals to other regions, thus increasing crime rates regardless of income or ownership.

The study, written by Christopher Contreras, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Criminology, Law & Society at the University of California Irvine (UCI), and John R. Hipp, a professor in UCI's Departments of Criminology, Law & Society and Urban Planning and Public Policy, was published in Justice Quarterly.

To conduct their research, the pair reviewed crime and census data culled from a heavily suburban area in Florida's Miami-Dade County between 2010 and 2014. The neighborhood had an average annual income of $74,000 and a home ownership rate of 72.5%.

According to studies of drug dependency and abuse trends in the region during that time period, heroin-related deaths had increased sharply between 2011 and 2012 in Miami-Dade. Statistics also showed that laws designed to close "pill mills" and to limit the amount of controlled Schedule II medication that physicians could prescribe, caused a slight reduction in the number of prescription opioid-related deaths in Miami-Dade.

However, four opioids—oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone and methadone—were responsible for a slightly higher margin of deaths (32%) in 2013 than 2012.

Upon reviewing the crime and census data, the study authors determined that "residential stability and high socioeconomic status do not necessarily buffer neighborhood blocks against an increase in robberies and burglaries," as Contreras noted. "Communities with narcotics trafficking bring in serious, high-rate offenders, whose activities spill over into other neighborhoods."

According to the study authors, a contributing factor may also be due to changes in how drug trafficking takes place. Technology allows dealers to move more freely and conduct business in public places rather than isolated areas or street corners. When police pressure is applied to these scenarios, dealers can simply relocate and continue business. "Drug activity is displaced to somewhere else, along with higher crime," noted Contreras.

Keeping drug-related crime out of residential neighborhoods will require stronger law enforcement, according to study co-author John Hipp. But policymakers also need to "address the growing demand for opioids," he added.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.