Chris Uggen's Blog: roadside refuse as leading delinquency indicators

Sunday, March 05, 2006

roadside refuse as leading delinquency indicators

every spring when the minnesota snow melts, all manner of items surface on the roadside. as a running criminologist, i like to observe changes in the quantity and type of items discarded by young people. in spring i run a big loop around shoreview (west to arden hills, north up lexington to lino lakes, east on county road j to north oaks, south on hodson to vadnais heights, and back west to shoreview). along all of these roads i find the detritus of recent delinquency, though most of it is quickly cleaned up each spring.

suburban high school kids don't have much private space, so they tend to do stuff in cars and then throw said stuff out of cars quickly thereafter. i'm therefore thinking about compiling an index of leading delinquency indicators that will use winter trash to predict summer delinquency.


based on yesterday's run, i'd say that beer is down and liquor is way up. there were lots of cheap plastic whiskey bottles along the road -- mostly pints, but i did see what looked like an empty fifth of tanqueray on the north oaks side. i didn't see any sudafed boxes or other methaphernalia this year, but two years ago i found a heavy concentration near a large apartment complex. similarly, i only saw a couple reddi-wip (or similar) cans, suggesting that the kids are huffing less propellant than they had 5 or 10 years ago. maybe high school test scores will be up too!

more distressingly, kids are putting loud pipes on their trucks and cars again and yelling unintelligible things out the window to unsuspecting strangers. at least no drivers have trained a red laser dot on this runner recently. this spooked me a bit on a night run several years ago. i don't see much graffiti in shoreview, but someone had rearranged the letters on a church sign on hodson road -- worshippers were greeted sunday morning with a message that featured "69" quite prominently.

as a parent, i don't know whether to feel more worried or less worried when i see condoms along the road. i'm seeing fewer lately, but don't know whether this indicates greater abstinence or risktaking. perhaps it could be the former, since i haven't seen any discarded underwear along the road for some time. i still find lots of mysterious single shoes, of course.
if my leading indicators have any predictive power, the liquor bottles lead me to expect more alcohol poisoning and d.u.i. arrests this summer. on the upside, the decline in sudafed boxes is probably good news. one of my favorite local runners actually carries a trash bag along much of this route. i applaud his civic-mindedness, but will have to get up earlier to ensure that he doesn't contaminate my data.

i'm actually thinking about making such systematic data collection a paper or project option in my deviance and delinquency classes. what conclusions might students draw from the detritus of delinquency in their towns and neighborhoods? it would have some secondary environmental benefits, of course, and many of my students would know exactly where to look.

8 Comments:

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Perhaps you'd like to extend your route down to my neighborhood (scroll down to "SHOW NO MERCY")and see what the trash tells you. Sampson & Raudenbush eat your hearts out! It's a bit like Hansel & Gretel, really, if you're looking for a little Mary Jane. Follow the litter, and you'll find what you're looking for. As far as yelling from car windows goes, you might get some "interesting" offers for "collaboration." =P

 
At 1:32 PM, Anonymous chris said...

the more i think about it, the more i think it would be a cool assignment. imagine asking students to bring in a garbage bag full of their neighborhood's data for a little show and tell presentation. it could tell you all sorts of shaw & mckay stuff about the class composition of the neighborhood, age-graded play groups, cultural transmission of delinquent traditions and more. i wish i had a class to try it out this semester...

 
At 2:17 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

F'sho, though you would want to think about guidelines for show and tell - are used condoms ok? hypodermic needles? other public health hazards? Sounds like fun!

 
At 10:40 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Ok, I'm intrigued. I'd be impressed if you could use your class to collect data for you and then write a paper on delinquency indicators. Assign students to randomly selected city blocks to collect the goods; develop a typology and code them in class; then compare this to publicly accessible indicators of crime the following month. Post your results here first, of course.

 
At 12:17 PM, Anonymous oblion said...

Hey Chris
What an interesting assingment. I was going to post a comment similar to Sarah. Come to my n'hood and do a comparison to yours (another inner city n'hood). Three comments. 1) Sadly, I do not have to walk far to find the trash in ours as there are all types of beer cans littering our street, which may be more a function of our proximity to the off ramp from the interstate. But it would be interesting to compare the different brands found in urband and surbuban n'hoods . 2) The park next to the elementary school near our house is notorious for needles, liquor trash, etc being found. Fortunatley I do not think it is the little kids who are leaving this, but sadly they play there. 3) But moreover in thinking about suburban and urban comparisons of crime, the police in our n'hood constantly discuss how there are people from distant suburbs who end up getting mugged in our n'hood, but don't report it for days and then tell the cops they came to our n'hood just to go to McDonalds.

TS

 
At 12:41 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Jeff - Did you know that you are in the veritable hotbed of garbology research? Looks like the archaeologists have a head-start on this...

 
At 1:51 PM, Anonymous chris said...

i like your idea, jeff -- maybe there is a paper here. one could certainly do this in minneapolis, given the availability of monthly neighborhood crime reports via CODEFOR.

oblion and sarah, you are reminding me of my place on dewey court in madison. the backyard abutted a bar named phil and larry's, i think. saturday and sunday mornings i'd find everything from human waste to needles to prophylactics. i hope the current residents have it better now. cleaning under the sink one day, i found that the previous tenant had left a jumbo ziplock bag of marijuana, with a very dead (but presumably very relaxed) mouse inside. i only stayed a year, before moving to an equally cheap but much cleaner eastside neighborhood -- much less interesting trash to analyze.

oblion is right -- the refuse doesn't necessarily come from the residents. as i ran up lexington avenue, i wondered whether some of the bottles might have been tossed by visitors to the adjoining national guard training site rather than the local high school kids.

 
At 5:13 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

When I lived (for two years) three houses in from a drug corner, a neighbor told me that the trash on the streets, most of which isn't from residents, acts as a signal to others that there is "permission" in that area to do wrong - the trash was a sign that that zone was marked for "business." That was incredibly frustrating as a resident because no amount of street-sweeping (which we did ourselves, no thanks to the Fine City we live in) seemed to keep it clean for more than a few hours...

 

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