Understanding the Link between Social Organization and Crime in Rural Communities


  • Sarah M Chilenski Pennsylvania State University
  • Amy K Syvertsen Search Institute
  • Mark T Greenberg Pennsylvania State University


Rural communities make up much of America's heartland, yet we know little about their social organization, and how elements of their social organization relate to crime rates. The current study sought to remedy this gap by examining the associations between two measures of social organization – collective efficacy and social trust – with a number of structural community characteristics, local crime rates, and perceptions of safety in a sample of 27 rural and small town communities in two states. Measures of collective efficacy, social trust, and perceived safety, were gathered from key community members in 2006; other measures were drawn from the 2000 Census and FBI Uniform Crime Reporting system. A series of competing hypotheses were tested to examine the relative importance of social trust and collective efficacy in predicting local crime rates. Results do not support the full generalization of the social disorganization model. Correlational analyses showed that neither collective efficacy nor social trust had a direct association with community crime, nor did they mediate the associations between community structural characteristics and crime. However, perceived safety mediated the association between community crime and both measures of social organization. Analyses suggest that social trust may be more important than collective efficacy when understanding the effect of crime on a community's culture in rural areas. Understanding these associations in rural settings can aid decision makers in shaping policies to reduce crime and juvenile delinquency. Keywords: rural, crime, social disorganization, collective efficacy, social trust, mediation