Ever since violent crime rates tumbled in American cities from the 1990s to the 2010s, researchers have been trying to figure out why. They have proposed many different causes— including shifting demographics, lead exposure, policing, and criminal justice policy—that tend to involve independent or external forces acting on urban areas. But until now, few have considered the actions of communities themselves in organizing to drive out crime.

In a new paper, a team of sociology researchers...

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