Do Theme Parks Increase the Risk of Crime?

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Courtesy Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

Spiderman and other superhero crime-fighters would have lots of work to do if they stepped a few miles out of the Orlando, Fl., amusement park where they make their fictional home.

It has long been understood that where there’s a high concentration of people, there are also higher crime rates. According to a new study of crime patterns in the neighborhoods surrounding the Universal Studios Florida theme park, that applies to unique tourist attractions as well.

A study of crime patterns in the neighborhoods surrounding the Universal Studios park in Orlando, published in the Justice Quarterly, found high concentrations of criminal activity outside a one-mile radius of the park—but lower crime inside the park itself.

Deploying a color-coded map that shows the total crime in Orlando and surrounding the theme park, researchers found that crimes such as “assault, robbery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and narcotics (possession or use) were especially concentrated near the amusement park.”

The park itself, and areas within the one-mile radius, were found less likely to have higher crime than other parts of the city. The study authors suggested that was largely due to high-profile security at the site.

The picture changes however once the focus expanded beyond the one-mile radius.

Correlating crime data between 2015-2017 with U.S. Census Bureau blocks, the study found “areas of high-high crime rate concentrations…in census blocks adjoining Universal Studios.”

universal studios

Photo by Yash via Flickr

A record 72 million people visited the park in 2017, making it North America’s third-most popular theme park destination. The park, home to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay as well as CityWalk, now spans nearly 600 acres.

The authors said their findings should prove valuable for police in other cities that host high-profile tourist destinations.

“Efforts such as increasing the presence of uniformed patrols or citizen patrols who perform surveillance functions as well as installing more physical surveillance strategies (e.g. cameras) may be useful,” the study said.

“Similarly, other physical environment adjustments such as signs for guiding tourists to the proper place and employing staff to provide information to tourists may be considered as a potential way of mitigating the perception of a crime-favorable environment.”

Finally, citing recommendations of other researchers, they said it was important to alert tourists to take special precautions when they are outside the boundaries of the amusement centers, such as not leaving goods unlocked in cars and hotel rooms, and staying aware of their surroundings before using automated teller machines, or travelling to restaurants and bars in the area.

Criminologists have been studying how certain locations can impact an individual’s likelihood to be victimized since as early as the 1940s. In a modern context, this location-based criminology concept has been commonly referred to as studying “hot spots,” which “typically includes a small portion of addresses, street segments, or facilities,” according to the study.

Tourism locations have attracted the attention of researchers studying these crime concentrations because of the natural way these venues attract “larger than average crowds” with a tendency to include late-night activities, according to the study.

“The issue of safety is a paramount concern, not only to visitors but also to local residents, the police department, and assorted private and business interests, and it directly implicates the quality of life of people residing and working in those areas,” the researchers said.

The research team comprised Sungil Han, PhD student at the University of Texas at Dallas, Matt R. Nobles, professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida, Alex R. Piquero, professor criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Nicole Leeper Piquero, professor of criminology and Vice President for Research Development at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The study, Crime Risks Increase in Areas Proximate to Theme Parks: A Case Study of Crime Concentration in Orlando, is available to the public for free for the first 30 days following the November 5, 2019 release, and for purchase after that.

This research summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano.

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