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Dec. 10, 2003

One in four Indiana neighborhoods crime free;
ISU survey finds property crime greatest problem

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. While murder and other violent crimes make headlines, property offenses pose the greatest crime risk in Indiana while roughly one neighborhood in four has no crime problem, according to an Indiana State University survey of the public’s perception of crime.

Asked the open-ended question, “What is the most serious crime problem, if any, in your neighborhood?” 26 percent of Indiana residents surveyed reported no crime problem while another 26 percent reported some kind of property crime. Drugs were the greatest problem for 18 percent, while 15 percent listed vandalism and youth crime and 8 percent said violent crime.

Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they had been victims of a property crime in the past year, with a median loss of $500, while 3.7 percent reported suffering a violent personal crime. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (61.8 percent) felt crime had stayed the same over the past year while 32.9 percent said crime had decreased in their community. Only 5.4 percent felt crime was on the increase.

“We’re in pretty good shape in Indiana; this is not a high crime state,” said Bob Huckabee, associate professor of criminology. “Even if you look at Indianapolis, it is not a high crime city in comparison with other large cities around the country.”

The eight-county Indianapolis region fared about the same as the state as a whole, according to the survey by Indiana State’s Sociology Research Lab.

Interviewers contacted a random sample of 1,623 households and 737 persons completed the survey, for a response rate of 46 percent, said Tom Steiger, professor of sociology and the Research Lab’s director. At least one interview was completed in each of the state’s 92 counties. The survey, conducted between July 21 and Sept. 17, has an error rate of plus or minus 3.6 percent.

“That’s pretty good. That puts us up there with most political polls in terms of accuracy,” Steiger said.

Residents of largely rural southwestern Indiana reported a greater drug problem than other regions of the state, especially in terms of methamphetamine.

While 15 percent of those responding statewide reported knowing someone who has been arrested for a methamphetamine offense, the figure was 23.8 percent in southwestern Indiana and 30.8 percent among residents of the Wabash Valley - defined for this study as Vigo and surrounding Indiana counties plus Knox County.

“Methamphetamine is much more likely to be a problem in rural areas, which provide the raw materials, particularly in terms of anhydrous ammonia, wide open spaces for the odor of the manufacturing process to disperse, and barns and other outbuildings for people to hide out in,” Huckabee said.

In another part of the survey, respondents gave generally high marks to local criminal justice officials but rated the state prison system only average.

Asked to assign letter grades to the performance of various elements of the system, 72 percent of respondents gave their local police or sheriff’s departments an A or B. County prosecutors and judges also received mostly As and Bs but 63 percent of respondents gave the Indiana Department of Correction either a C or D.

Only 5 percent gave the prison system an A, while 25 percent gave it a B.

The responses may be reflective of citizens being more familiar with local police, prosecutors and judges, Huckabee said.

“The prison system is this state agency that’s there in Indianapolis. A lot of people don’t have first hand knowledge about prisons other than what they hear on the news and typically prisons make news when it’s bad news,” he said.

Wabash Valley residents gave the prison system higher grades than persons in other regions, Huckabee said, likely a reflection of the huge presence correctional facilities have in the area. Terre Haute is home to two U.S. Bureau of Prisons facilities and a third is under construction. State prisons are located at Carlisle, Putnamville and Rockville.

The survey is the first conducted by Indiana State, where criminology is the No. 2 major.

“It’s important to get feedback from the public because a lot of crime data is filtered through the system,” Huckabee said. “A lot of crimes are not reported. If they are reported, people aren’t always arrested and if they are arrested, they are not always prosecuted.”

GRADING THE SYSTEM B C D F
Local police/sheriff 24.3 48.1 21 5 1.6
Local prosecutor 20.3 45.4 26 5.6 2.8
Local judges 21.6 46.6 24.2 4.4 3.5
Indiana prison system 4.9 24.7 44 19 7.3

REGIONAL HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Northwestern Indiana - 9.1 percent reported a property crime in 2002, well below other areas
  • 3 percent reported a violent crime, compared with 3.7 percent for state
  • Southwestern Indiana - 23.8 percent reported crime increasing, lower than any other area
  • Northeastern Indiana - 10 percent reported crime decreased (highest region)
  • “No crime problem” - Evansville metro, 33 percent; Indianapolis metro 27.9 percent.
  • “Know meth offender” - Evansville, 19 percent (highest among metro areas); Gary (6.1 percent) and Fort Wayne (6.7 percent) were lowest. Indianapolis is 10.6 percent.

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Contact:
Bob Huckabee, associate professor of criminology, (812) 237-2195 or crhuck@isugw.indstate.edu;
Tom Steiger, director, Sociology Research Lab, (812) 237-3431 or tsteiger@indstate.edu

Writer:
Dave Taylor, ISU Public Affairs, (812) 237-3743 or devtaylo@isugw.indstate.edu

ISU Public Affairs:
(812) 237-3773 or http://isunews.indstate.edu