New study links theme parks to nearly 198% increase in crime rate in neighboring areas

Analysis of crimes near Universal Studios in Orlando shows that offences increased by 198% in neighborhoods within a mile of the park, which attracts over nine million visitors a year


                            New study links theme parks to nearly 198% increase in crime rate in neighboring areas

Crime rates are significantly higher in US neighborhoods near theme parks, which are major tourist attractions, according to a new analysis.

The researchers examined crime rates near Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, and found that crimes increased by 198% in neighborhoods within a mile of the park, which attracts over nine million visitors a year. 

Hotels, bars, and restaurants are a significant factor in this trend, found the research team from the University of Texas at Dallas, US; University of Central Florida, Orlando, US; and Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Their analysis shows that crime rates increased by 19% in areas with just one of these 'attractors.' According to the researchers, they could influence crime rates by increasing the number of potentially 'suitable' targets, such as people on vacation who may take fewer precautions with property and safety.

"Theme park tourism stands to top record levels in successive years. These findings indicate the need for more active policing strategies, not only in the theme park areas but also in more distant neighborhoods under the influence of the theme park," says lead author Dr. Alex Piquero from the University of Texas at Dallas.

The findings show offense rates increased by 198% in neighborhoods within a mile of the Universal Studios in Orlando, which attracts more than nine million visitors a year.  (Getty Images)

According to the researchers, Orlando, Florida, claims one-third of North America's total theme park attendance, and in 2017 alone, the city reported that a record 72 million visitors attended its various theme park attractions.

Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows crime rates in Orlando are higher than the national average. In 2017, a total of 6,198 violent and property crimes were recorded compared with 2,756 nationally.

"Orlando is world-famous as a family-centric recreational tourism destination, with international theme parks such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld. Those parks are situated in the southwest quadrant of the city, and various amenities and commercial places, including a shopping mall, hotels, and restaurants, are located nearby. However, Universal Studios is the only theme park that is located within the Orlando municipal boundary," says the study.

The research team used incident-level crime data for three years (2015–2017) from the Orlando Police Department to compute census block-level crime rates. This implies that they established crime rates at the level of census' blocks,' the smallest possible geographical areas for which population-related information exists. Crime patterns in these blocks were then analyzed using various statistical techniques, including geospatial mapping. A total of 4,588 census blocks in Orlando were included in the analysis.

Among various crime types, only violent and property offenses, as well as narcotics violations, were included in this study, which has been published in the journal Justice Quarterly.

The study found the blocks where Universal Studios is located, as well as other blocks near the theme park in the southwest had higher crime rates than other parts of Orlando. Conversely, rates decreased by 14% for every 1 km further away blocks were from the theme park.

The analysis shows that 'facility' has a significant and positive association with the crime rate for all types of crime. Adding one facility such as a hotel, motel, bar, or restaurant to the census block serves to increase the crime rate by about 19%.

Hotels and bars near high-profile theme parks attract crime, says the study. Researchers believe they influence rates by increasing the number of potentially 'suitable' targets, such as people on vacation who may take less precautions with property and safety. (Getty Images)

"Crime incidents are concentrated in the center of Orlando and the southwest section of the city that is close to the theme park and other various commercial establishments, restaurants, and bars. While total crime shows high concentration, other crime types such as assault, robbery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, and narcotics reflected similar crime concentration patterns, generally concentrated nearby Universal Studios. In particular, when census blocks are situated within a mile from the park, their crime rates are increased by about 198%," says the study. 

The findings, says the team, highlights an important relationship between theme park tourism and crime. "Our results hold implications for understanding the relationship between tourism and crime, and for the practical implementation of police strategies. Theme park tourism stands to top record levels in successive years. These findings indicate the need for more active policing strategies, not only in the theme park areas but also in more distant neighborhoods under the influence of the theme park," says Dr. Piquero.

The team says that the study highlights a need for more active policing strategies to combat the effect of crime on tourists, local residents, businesses, and police. The researchers recommend reducing the number of places near theme parks that attract crime — such as hotels — and including safety tips for tourists on cash machines.

"These findings indicate the need for more active policing strategies not only in the theme park areas but also in more distant neighborhoods under the influence of the theme park. In fact, the tourism attractions themselves have fewer crime incidents due to high profile security on-site, and local police may be more efficient by focusing on surrounding areas to limit tourist-driven "demand" crimes such as prostitution and narcotics," state the findings.

It says, "For all prevention and enforcement activities, the cooperation of the local community is essential. For example, hotels and motels may help police departments provide useful information for preventing crime to visitors or building funds to support special security measures in those areas."

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