Preventing Illegal Dumping to Address Community Violence is a four-year study taking place in Flint, MI. The city of Flint has one of the highest residential vacancy rates in the U.S. and experiences significant disparities in health and violence outcomes. High concentrations of vacant land and elevated physical disorder in Flint are significant risk factors for both illegal dumping and violence. At the same time, the Flint community is highly engaged and invested in finding new approaches to address these issues. Through this study, we will implement and evaluate community-driven illegal dumping prevention interventions as a novel approach to violence prevention. This project is funded by the CDC as part of a Community Violence Cooperative Agreement and is an affiliated project of the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center (MI-YVPC).
Background & Preliminary Study
Illegal dumping is a major concern for the residents of Flint, MI. In just one year, the Genesee County Land Bank Authority (GCLBA), a quasi-governmental organization responsible for managing vacant, tax-foreclosed property in Flint, MI, removed 725 tons of illegally dumped waste from the properties in their inventory. In 2020-2021, the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center (MI-YVPC) received a grant to partner with the GCLBA and Camden Community Partnership (CCP) to conduct a preliminary study of illegal dumping prevention interventions in Flint, MI, and Camden, NJ.
We worked closely with our partners in Flint and Camden to:
- prioritize chronic dump sites for intervention;
- engage community residents in identifying preventative interventions; and
- implement these interventions on a total of 16 across the two cities.
In Flint, a three-component intervention, including boulders, solar lighting, and trail cameras, was installed, following major site clean-ups. In Camden, interventions included combinations of cameras, signage, landscaping, and public art (e.g., murals, sculptures).
Findings from this study indicated high satisfaction with the interventions. Stakeholders in both cities perceived illegal dumping was reduced or eliminated on the treated sites. Stakeholders also reported that the interventions improved the look and feel of their neighborhoods, made the sites more conducive to positive activity, and inspired greater community maintenance nearby.
Based on these positive initial findings, the MI-YVPC applied for and received funding from the CDC for the current study in Flint, MI.
The study team is working in partnership with the Genesee County Land Bank Authority (GCLBA) and the Center for Community Progress, to evaluate the interventions identified in the preliminary study for preventing community violence. We are comparing four conditions of sites targeted for illegal dumping:
- An illegal dumping intervention on sites with resident-engaged maintenance;
- An illegal dumping intervention on sites with professional maintenance;
- No illegal dumping intervention on sites with resident-engaged maintenance; and
- No illegal dumping intervention on sites with professional maintenance.
Our community partners have been engaged in shared decision-making around the intervention’s development and we are working with a Community Participation Council (CPC) made up of Clean and Green Community Group Leaders to facilitate community involvement in the research. As cost considerations are paramount in low-resource settings, we are implementing cost-effectiveness analyses of the different intervention strategies for averting violent crime. Lastly, we are working with our community partners to translate our findings and disseminate best practices to academic, practitioner, and policymaker audiences nationwide.
The Preventing Illegal Dumping to Address Community Violence study is guided by Busy Streets Theory (BST). BST posits that remediating illegal dumping on vacant lots may help deter crime and violence by reducing crime-attracting physical disorder and signaling positive ownership and social control. Aligned with BST, researchers have found that the positive effects of greening for preventing violence are enhanced when community residents work together on neighborhood change.
Yet, resident-engaged greening is often undermined by patterns of illegal dumping. Based on our prior research, we hypothesize that the illegal dumping intervention alone will reduce crime and violence relative to controls. Additionally, we expect greater and more sustained reductions in violent crime around dumpsites in the condition receiving both the intervention and resident-engaged maintenance than on sites receiving the intervention with professional maintenance.
- Aim 1: Conduct a four-arm randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test the effects of an illegal dumping prevention intervention with and without resident-engaged maintenance on violent and firearm crime. Sub aims are to:
- Aim 1a: Study these effects for all ages and for outcomes among youth under 25 years old.
- Aim 1b: Test a mediational model of dumping prevention to understand the mechanism by which the dumping intervention may work to reduce and prevent violent and firearm-related crime.
- Aim 1c: Study the radiating effects of the intervention on crime on adjacent streets.
- Aim 2: Examine the longitudinal effects of an illegal dumping prevention intervention with and without resident-engaged maintenance on total violent crime and violent crime involving firearms.
- Aim 3: Conduct an analysis to measure potential dumping displacement by assessing the extent to which illegal dumping is simply moved to areas surrounding the study sites.
- Aim 4: Conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis of an illegal dumping prevention intervention with and without resident-engaged maintenance and its violence reduction outcomes by assessing the relative intervention costs on averted violent crime and violent crime involving firearms.