An Examination of Order Maintenance Policing by Business Improvement Districts

Date01 February 2020
Published date01 February 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(1) 70 –85
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219890203
An Examination of Order
Maintenance Policing by
Business Improvement
Amanda D’Souza1
Despite their ability to improve public safety, research has often prioritized the
central role of the police in order maintenance, frequently overlooking the activities
of non-state organizations. The current study examines the role of one such security
program, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Specifically, it explores how BIDs’
security teams, also known as Public Safety Officers, enforce order within their local
districts. Data were collected from 76 semi-structured interviews and 171 hr of
participant observations within four different BIDs in the two American cities. Findings
illustrate how study participants demonstrated their use of reporting, surveillance,
and other behavioral strategies to establish order and themselves as guardians within
their districts. Scholars’ disproportionate focus on the work of the police downplays
the importance of private organizations. This study is an exploration into a piece of
this larger order maintenance network.
order maintenance, broken windows, business improvement district, private security
Addressing visual and social disorder or “fixing broken windows” is a popular and
well-researched policing strategy (Skogan, 1990). Generally, this approach calls for
the police to focus on minor problems under the premise that these issues, if left unat-
tended, will result in more serious crimes (Wilson & Kelling, 1982). However, polic-
ing scholars have recently devoted increased attention to the impact that private
1Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, USA
Corresponding Author:
Amanda D’Souza, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, 123 Washington Street, Newark, NJ
07102-3094, USA.
890203CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219890203Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeD’Souza
D’Souza 71
security personnel have on persistent crime and disorder problems (Johnston &
Shearing, 2003). For example, private security forces have been shown to enhance
citizen perceptions of safety and reduce fear of crime, while simultaneously “freeing
up” the police to address more serious calls for service (Cook, 2009). Although police
remain a key agency within the order maintenance framework, an exclusionary focus
on this one set of actors, limits our understanding of the nuanced way that order is
routinely managed within neighborhoods.
Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) represent one type of organization within this
“ecosystem of social control” (Abbott, 1988). BIDs are defined geographical areas
where local businesses pay “tax” to fund supplemental support services. Typically, these
amenities include security, sanitation, infrastructure improvements, and social events.
The nature and extent of programs are dependent on funding, district size and commu-
nity needs (Gross, 2005). Over the last 50 years, the number of BIDs in downtown cores
has grown exponentially all over the world (Symes & Steel, 2003). In the United States
alone, there are 1,000 BIDs and more than 40 states have statutes permitting their cre-
ation (Symes & Steel, 2003). Historically, downtown cores have been negatively
impacted by deindustrialization, the flight of the middle class into the suburbs, tax incre-
ment financing (TIF), fear of crime, and the construction of mass private properties (e.g.,
large-scale shopping malls, amusement parks, and university campuses) (Kempa et al.,
1999). BIDs, in turn, have been argued to remedy and revitalize previously struggling
downtown cores (Hochleutner, 2003, p. 376). Specifically, their popularity is largely due
to their ability to target local problems in ways that are more efficient, cost-effective, and
proactive than traditional municipal governments (Mitchell, 2008).
BIDs employ private security personnel, Public Safety Officers (PSOs), who patrol
designated areas for issues that can adversely impact residents’ and visitors’ quality of
life (e.g., homelessness, panhandling, and disorderly conduct). BIDs have been shown
to reduce crime, while producing few displacement effects (Hoyt, 2005). They also
have been found to increase public perceptions of safety (Crawford, 1998), while
reducing criminal justice spending (Cook & MacDonald, 2010). Absent from these
empirical studies, however, are direct examinations regarding how PSOs view their
order maintenance role.
State-centered institutions comprise only one, albeit powerful, part of the social
control puzzle. The goal of this current study is to advance the empirical literature by
providing insight into how non-state centered agencies like BIDs enhance social con-
trol through an examination of the behavioral strategies of PSOs. As a result of histori-
cal and social changes, crime and its accompanying reactions have become more
complex and multifaceted (Crawford, 1998). Both public and private organizations
must now negotiate and manage their roles within an ever-evolving and interacting
system of governance (Abbott, 1988).
The Evolving Roles of the Public and Private Police
During the 1970s and 1980s, researchers began to question the certainty and celerity
of deterrence-based policing practices. Studies highlighted how tactics like preventive

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