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The Privatization of Public Safety in Urban Neighborhoods: Do Business Improvement Districts Reduce Violent Crime Among Adolescents?


  • John MacDonald,

  • Robert J. Stokes,

  • Ben Grunwald,

  • Ricky Bluthenthal

  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the American Society of Criminology meetings in San Francisco, CA, in 2010. GIS programming was provided by Aaron Kofner. Sampling algorithm and design were provided by Greg Ridgeway and Daniela Golinelli. Support for this project was made possible by the CDC under cooperative agreement 1U49CE000773. The opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not represent the official positions of the CDC, the RAND Corporation, or any of its clients.

Please direct all correspondence to John MacDonald, Department of Criminology, University of Pennsylvania, 3718 Locust Walk, Suite 483, McNeil Building, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; e-mail:


The business improvement district (BID) is a popular economic development and urban revitalization model in which local property and business owners must pay an assessment tax that funds supplementary services, including private security. BIDs constitute a controversial form of urban revitalization to some because they privatize economic development and public safety efforts in public space. This study examines whether BIDs provide tangible benefits beyond their immediate boundaries to local residents in the form of reduced violence among adolescents. The empirical analysis advances an existing literature dominated by evaluation studies by introducing a theoretically driven dataset with rich information on individual and neighborhood level variables. The analysis compares violent victimization among youths living in BID neighborhoods with those in similarly situated non-BID neighborhoods. We find no effect of BIDs on violence. However, we do find that youth violence is strongly correlated with neighborhood collective efficacy and family-related attributes of social control. In conclusion, we argue that BIDs may be an agent of crime reduction, but this benefit is likely concentrated only in their immediate boundaries and does not extend to youths living in surrounding neighborhoods.