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Crime Generators or Social Capital Organizations? Examining the Effects of Places of Worship on Neighborhood Crime

Places of worship (POW) have traditionally been argued to have crime-reducing effects in neighborhoods because of their ability to produce social capital. Yet, the evidence for this proposition is surprisingly weak. Consequently, an alternative proposition, rooted in environmental criminology, suggests that POW might unintentionally operate as crime generators in neighborhoods insofar as they induce foot traffic and undermine guardianship and social control capabilities. Because of these competing propositions in combination with the limited number of studies on this topic, we conduct a block group analysis of crime, places of worship, well-established criminogenic facilities, and sociodemographic characteristics in Washington, D.C. We estimate negative binomial regression models of both violent and property crime and find strong evidence for only one of the propositions, with the effects of POW being relatively strong in comparison to other predictors in the models. The implications of these findings for criminology, urban studies, and public policy are discussed.