Can Murder Be Tracked Like An Infectious Disease?
December 6, 2012 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Researchers found that the pattern of murder in Newark, NJ is very similar in pattern to the spread of an infectious disease. Could this research show law enforcement a new way to predict where murders will occur?
posted by reenum (14 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
posted by The Confessor at 7:16 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

IRL Numb3rs
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:28 PM on December 6, 2012

The guy who founded CeaseFire (now Cure Violence) was a former epidemiologist who made this exact observation and oriented his group around that fact. The interrupters of the group exist to stop its spread, similar to quarantining an infectious patient. But they operate on a ground level, identifying potential retaliation points and cutting them off rather than predicting them on a wide scale.

Nonetheless, if you are trying to stop gang violence then after there's a murder/violent act it seems the best thing to do is not only arrest the perpetrators, but immediately address the victim's friends and convince them to not retaliate.
posted by schroedinger at 7:35 PM on December 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

Well, people have busy lives. There's only so much time they have to meet up in between looking after the kids, working overtime, getting the car from the garage, and all that stuff. People are out of town or you're just busy, so you have to plan things a little, whether its meeting up to transmit your infectious disease or plotting to murder an enemy. So it doesn't surprise me that these things are clustered in space and time in a similar manner.
posted by deo rei at 8:03 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a long time now, I've been skeptical of the miasma theory of murder. It's not clear to me how pollution or "bad air" can lead people to kill each other.
posted by Nomyte at 8:19 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

That Interruptors documentary is fantastic. I highly recommend it.
posted by fshgrl at 9:01 PM on December 6, 2012

I imagine that, in addition to guns and gangs, the proximity to murder including the witnessing of and/or hearing about murders in the immediate environment is part of the "spread" of the violence
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:41 PM on December 6, 2012

Hearing about murder increases one's apprehension of violence. This in turn primes a person to violence. Which further increases the apprehension. All...wound...up.

Fortunately, thanks to our dearly beloved 2nd Amendment, we Americans can all be properly prepared to face the dangers of all this apprehension! Or should I say, thanks to our well-regulated militia, we don't have to worry about violence in the streets. No, that's not it either. Please, hope me.
posted by Goofyy at 9:54 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

The documentary Brick City followed, among other people in other social/cultural avenues in Newark, the couple Jayda and Creep -- one a Blood, the other a Crip, who have a baby together and work as youth counselors/mentors as they develop post-gang lives. NYT. Their lives show the difficulty of leaving that orbit, even surrounded by positive influences. Can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by dhartung at 10:19 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anecdote: A handful of years ago, my girlfriend-at-the time were going to go see a movie in the city (NYC), and so we decided to make a rare jaunt to Times Square. I forgot what the movie was, but it was the kind of movie that would have made sense to see with a large crowd -- plus, it was the summer, etc.

In any case, once we got to the AMC/theater area on 42nd and 8th-ish, something felt weird -- a strange vibe, an almost gelatinous sticky weird feeling. I guess it was the crowds, but the back of my neck tingled, cliche and all. It just happened that the tickets to the film we wanted to see were sold out, so we walked down to 34th instead and caught something else.

Later that night we read on the news that that night was the opening day of SAW V, and there had been 7 screens showing the film in constant rotation. Apparently after the movie ended, packs of moviegoers, all hopped up on torture porn, started fighting with each other, ending in four people being stabbed.

"It seemed like hundreds of kids, roaming around in packs, screaming, yelling, running through the streets like wild animals," said Greg Wolf of Manhattan."

Now, obviously there's a direct causal relationship between the stabbing and the movie, but I couldn't get the image out of my head of hundreds of people flowing into the theater, then flowing out an hour or so later, full of murderous anxious violent panicked energy and moving around, like diagrams of brownian motion or birds in flight, etc.
posted by suedehead at 3:55 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

The question of what leads to the islands of immunity is a really interesting one.

One of my various job duties is going through apartment complexes all across the country -- some upscale, some very down at the heels. One down-at-the-heels complex in FL a few years back had one of these islands of immunity, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why.

The complex was around 500-700 units, all built at the same time, all built to the same plan. The front half of the complex had a high vacancy rate (over 20%). Most people moved out after a year. The residents answering the doors were nervous, the few of them who were home. The area was trashed -- literally, trash and litter all over the place. The interiors of the move-outs had been trashed as well, with appliances destroyed, holes in walls, etc.

The other, back half of the complex had a very low vacancy rate (less than 5% -- amazingly low for a very high turnover area) and tended to have people stay for many years. The interior areas were in much better shape, the area was quieter, and the residents didn't look nervous. The few move-outs were in immaculate shape.

I assumed people looking for quiet areas must have been preferentially requesting the back half, but no -- people were randomly assigned to units when they rented. The building management didn't report any active gang activity or community groups or other organizational features that could explain the difference.

Now that the situation has occured, it's self-reinforcing -- but how it arose is a mystery. Jane Jacobs would suggest design differences can lead to this, but in this particular case, there weren't any design differences. The amenities (pool, basketball court, leasing clubhouse) were at the center of the property and were accessible to both halves equally. The rents were the same. The buildings were the same. The leasing maintenance staff were the same (and tried to keep both halves to the same level of cleanliness and repair).

Obviously at some point the two halves of the complex branched from one another, but I have no idea when, or why, or how you could recreate the phenomenon in the back half of the community in other areas.
posted by pie ninja at 6:30 AM on December 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

Cease Fire (now Cure Violence) has been maintaining since 1995 that violence should be treated as a public health problem or epidemic.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:12 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

or what schroedinger said
posted by IvoShandor at 7:12 AM on December 7, 2012

San Francisco Wraparound Project: "The mission of the San Francisco Wraparound Project is to stop the revolving door of violent injuries in the city of San Francisco. By finding resources in the community to address multiple factors, Wraparound case managers address the root causes of violence."
posted by larrybob at 4:09 PM on December 7, 2012

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