by Katie Stepp

When planning for personal safety, knowing where crimes happen is just as important as knowing who commits them.

Photo of a crime scene behind police tapeThat's a theory voiced by Jeffery T. Walker, a professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Walker recently spoke to the University of West Georgia’s criminology students.

“It’s not the place itself, but the structure of the environment that makes a criminal,” Walker said.

In his lecture, titled “You Have to Know Your Place: Understanding Crime in the Context of Neighborhoods,” Walker explored the idea of making oneself aware of surroundings to understand crime within an area. People should become familiar with the history of their neighborhoods as well as potentially dangerous spots to better ensure their safety.

“Neighborhoods are more than just pieces of geography,” Walker said. “Neighborhoods are people also. It’s very difficult to separate the geographic space that’s bounded by streets and the people who live there. It’s all one system.”

Walker explained how it is very common for neighborhoods to start off as great places to live and raise families, but, over time, they can see crime rates increase.

“A lot of times, if you see a place that’s on the fringe of the city center but is still a high-crime area, that place was probably a neighborhood developed in the '30s, '40s or '50s and was once the place that everyone wanted to live,” Walker said. “Over the course of time, as houses started to deteriorate, the neighborhood deteriorated and people changed. The neighborhood started moving into a place of high crime.”

Walker expressed the importance of familiarizing oneself with the surrounding areas to better understand what crimes are probable there.

“Neighborhoods that have high crime rates have been getting that way for years,” Walker added. “Understanding our communities and the places where we live, or don’t live, is important in understanding criminal behavior. You’ve got to know the history. The history is important.”

As a former Green Beret and a past president of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, Walker’s areas of interest include social and environmental factors of crime, and police operations —particularly as they pertain to legal issues and crime mapping and analysis.

He has written 10 books and nearly 100 journal articles and book chapters. His publications include articles in Justice Quarterly, the Journal of Quantitative Criminology and the Journal of Criminal Justice Education.

In addition, he has received more than $12 million in grants from the Department of Justice, National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Posted on March 28, 2018