A myth of crime fighting in urban cities


Masud Khabeki

The urbanization model across the world was developed during the industrial revolution. Urbanization is seen as detrimental to the preservation of social cohesion because of the perceived rigid distinction between urban and rural areas with regard to crime and social exclusion. Scholars, poets and thinkers remained concerned about urbanization since its beginning. Many groups of intellectuals were unhappy due the rapid urbanization trends and quick wealth generation resulted due to industrialization. The massive industrialization proved a catalyst in enhancing the urbanization trends as people preferred to move from villages to the large cities for increased employment opportunities and better living standards. The scholars and law enforcement practitioners were utterly pessimistic in their views of this rapid transformation. To them the city was seen as vicious whereas the countryside was thought of as ideal. The cause of this strong polarization between ‘gemeinschaft’ and ‘gesellschaft’ can be found in the romantic views of scholars they had about the strong rural family life and rural local social life in pre-industrial times. This pessimistic view on the negative consequences of urbanization is also known as the ‘linear development model’, referring to the fact that urbanization itself would inevitably lead to social disintegration and would perpetuate more criminal behavior. The model presupposes a proportional increase in crime according to the level of urbanization.

From this point of view, it was assumed that the urban way of life would be characterized by competition, creation of wealth, innovative thinking void of maraliy, secondary contact, depersonalization of relationships, formal control and passivity. The opposites of these characteristics (e.g. solidarity bonds, primary contact, identity, informal control, and a sense of participation and ownership) can be seen as indicators of social cohesion. In the urbanization model, social cohesion refers to the presence of strong and local social ties. It was thought that these social ties would be less strong in urban areas (in contrast to the rural areas). This would inevitably lead to more deviant behavior, delinquency among children, gang culture, increased criminality and insecurity in urban communities.

Since our county is facing rapid urbanization trends for the past decades and our law enforcement agencies are facing problems to develop crime prevention strategies, we must examine the urban crime in the above context and have to find remedies as the urban societies had done before to combat deviant behavior among masses and delinquency among youth in particular. We may consult and follow the examples and strategies of sociologists, criminologists and law enforcement practitioners of North America, England and Europe to find that how they had been successful to address the problem of crime in large urban places.

We could start by examining the roots of the Chicago School of criminology with reference to ecological explanations for crime and delinquency particularly in urban youth, the scientific influences would lead us back to the classic structural-functionalism of E. Durkheim (1858-1917), with its focus on the independent study of social facts or collective behaviors. Definitely, the classic Chicago School of criminology is the cradle from which contemporary urban criminology sprang by contributing to the development of the theory of social disorganization. The pace with which Chicago developed from the end of the 18th century from a small place at Lake Michigan into a Metropolis was vital for the systematic study of urbanization and its consequences. The ideas of urban sociology/criminology have important boost during the era. Criminologists considered geographical areas as urban mosaics, each with their own spatial density. They become interested in the consequences of urbanization on collective behavior, later on this unique effort was popularized as ‘social disorganization theory’. These early scholars were genuinely interested and socially concerned with the consequences of what was happening in this historical time-frame. Rapid changes brought about dramatic consequences, both for public health and crime in large urban spaces. This general kind of social engagement can be said to be a major characteristic of the first generation of Chicago School researchers, and looking back, we can say that a similar kind of social concernedness also characterizes the scholars that were responsible for the major revival of the social disorganization perspective in the eighties.

Similar efforts been made by European criminologists in the 19th century rightly signified and declared as pathfinders for early urban criminology. Interestingly, the European studies concerning the effects of area characteristics on delinquent behavior among youth residing in urban areas had already been carried out before the emergence of the Chicago School. In this period Western Europe was rapidly transformed from a pre-industrial agrarian society to an urbanized and industrialized one. These developments resulted in radical changes and attracted the attention of scientists and policy makers on a significant scale. Guided by the principles of positivism, researchers collected spatial data and tried to map it systematically. Apart from a belief in the possibility of intervening in social processes, what motivated them was to increase knowledge on the social causes and consequences of rapid change in urban areas. One of the first visible negative consequences of rapid urban change was the social phenomenon of criminality. It comes as no surprise that the social study of crime and delinquency was a theme that was of primary interest to them. This intellectual tradition is still referred to as the ‘Cartographic School’.

In Western Europe, Quételet (1796-1874) and Guerry (1802-1866) were the first to concern themselves with a systematic study of convicts in French judicial districts. Their findings were innovative, according to their apprehension the crime was not distributed equally across differing districts. In industrialized and strongly urbanized areas mostly property offences were committed whereas in the rural districts offences were especially characterized by their violent nature. These geographical differences in crime patterns provided the first fuel for a discussion on the role of urban surroundings on the normative behavior of inhabitants. This approach to find crime patterns in city like Karachi could provide a guideline to develop crime prevention strategies in fighting street crimes.

Parallel work was also done in the United Kingdom. Noteworthy in this respect are the studies of Mayhew (1812-1887) and Rawson (1812-1899). Through Mayhew, London neighborhoods became the subject of thorough analysis. Mayhew was interested in, among other things, the specific characteristics of criminal neighborhoods. His work concentrated on impoverished inner-city districts around the urban center. It is important to understand the eye that Mayhew had for the social conditions in impoverished London neighborhoods.

The structural functionalism of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) stands in stark contrast to the a-theoretical elaborations of moral statisticians such as Quételet. Where the moral statisticians derived patterns from descriptive analyses, Durkheim developed a method whereby causal patterns could be tested by means of studying the consistency between social facts as variables. Durkheim’s reputation is built upon his chapters concerning the division of labor, suicide and anomie. The associated empirical analyses of time series of social facts show that Durkheim can be regarded as a founder of modern criminology. The Chicago School has further elaborated the ideas of Durkheim. Durkheim was the founding father of the structuralist vision that structural relationships do not exist independently of each other, but instead have a substantial impact on diverse aspects of collective living. The method that Durkheim used, aggregated analysis, became in this way one of the most important resources of urban criminology.

The criminologists, researchers, the service providers, municipalities and the law enforcement agencies need to be strongly focused on the poor living conditions of immigrants in urban areas (i.e., Karachi) including all facets of urban living. An in-depth scientific study of social problems in urban neighborhoods as a requirement for bringing about social improvements have to be prioritized to reduce criminality and recidivisms among the urban youth. We have to understand that social life in urban areas is influenced as a result of a range of Darwinian natural processes, specifically competition, conflict, assimilation and integration. These processes are hypothesized and are strongly influenced by the social structure of urban areas. Unfortunately, our universities have miserably failed to produce the right kind of research necessary to combat growing trends of criminal behavior in our large urban cities as majority of the departments including the department of criminology are hijacked by the incompetent pseudo scholars. We have to appoint not only specialized but competent faculty in the departments of criminology, have to establish trends where academia and practitioners must work together and find right strategies to eliminate crime in urban spaces. The research work must be made compulsory for any graduate degree especially in criminology. Considering crime fighting is the responsibility of only police or the law enforcement agencies would be an illusion and would take us nowhere as far as the crime fighting is concerned. The role of academia and practitioners working in tandem with police and civic authorities could yield positive results as criminologists have played a huge role in identifying issues and making things easy to formulate crime prevention strategies.

The Chairman HEC and the concerned Vice Chancellors of the public sector universities are repeatedly requested to take cognizance of the issue, but they have turned a blind eye towards the growing menace and bent upon to run the criminology departments without inducting qualified faculty. The law enforcement agencies especially the head of police department must contribute the expertise of their forces to public sector universities and must monitor the scheme of studies being offered in Criminology departments to ensure that these degrees have any productivity for our criminal justice system. They have to suggest research topics to accumulate required data necessary to form specific crime prevention strategies. They must come forward and help to improve teaching methodologies in the departments of criminology in our public sector universities.



The writer is on advisory board of an Islamabad based think tank