When Seattle residents were surveyed concerning their fear of crime, many reported a fear that outpaced the actual level of crime. Two neighborhoods, for example, “are seemingly safe places to live, and rank among the 15 neighborhoods with the lowest rates of reported crime. But in terms of fear, they rank second and third, respectively — both at least 10 points higher than the city average.” There are 8 additional neighborhoods whose amount of crime is below the city average but whose fear of crime is above the city average (Balk, 2018).
Additionally, while Seattle crime is frequently reported in the news, suburban crime is less reported. Some residents of Bellevue (population 150,000 and located 10 miles east of Seattle) have complained that problems with crime in their city has not enjoyed the same media coverage Seattle’s has. In all fairness, Bellevue’s crime rate is not near that of Seattle’s. For example, in 2018, while Seattle had 992 burglaries per 100,000 residents, Bellevue had 268 per 100,000 residents (Balk, 2019). Why do the residents of some Seattle neighbors greatly fear crime while their neighborhoods are pretty safe?
Why do the residents of Bellevue think there is more crime in their city than there is?
One culprit may be Nextdoor.com (Balk, 2019), “The private social network for your neighborhood.”
The Nextdoor.com website says, “Nextdoor is the best way to stay informed about what’s going on in your neighborhood—whether it’s finding a last-minute babysitter, planning a local event, or sharing safety tips. There are so many ways our neighbors can help us, we just need an easier way to connect with them.” As a member of Nextdoor.com, I do see all of those things. But Nextdoor also provides a way for everyone to report suspicious activity and actual crime (posting security cam recordings of thieves stealing packages is a favorite), whether experienced themselves or by a neighbor. “Suspicious activity” is, of course, subjective. Whether it’s actual crime or “suspicious activity” that may have been nothing, it’s easy for readers of Nextdoor to add ticks to their mental crime column.
For frequent Nextdoor readers, crime information is salient. The availability heuristic leads such readers to think their neighborhoods are crime-ridden when, in fact, the crime rates may be quite low. If only people would also report when they experienced no crime. (Do you think I could start that trend? “Dear neighbors, nobody harmed my family or stole my property today.”) It’s another nice reminder that the information we take in does indeed influence our perceptions. For those keeping score – System 1: 1; System 2: 0 (Stanovich & West, 2000).
Balk, G. (2018, June 28). ‘Mean world syndrome’: In some Seattle neighborhoods, fear of crime exceeds reality. Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/mean-world-syndrome-in-some-seattle-neighborhoods-fear-of-crime-exceeds-reality
Balk, G. (2019, February 11). The ‘Nextdoor effect’ in Bellevue: A familiar reaction to crime. Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/the-nextdoor-effect-in-bellevue-a-familiar-reaction-to-crime
Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (2000). Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 645–726. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X00003435