Sunday, March 5, 2006

roadside refuse as leading delinquency indicators

every spring when the minnesota snow melts, all manner of items surface on the roadside. as a running criminologist, i like to observe changes in the quantity and type of items discarded by young people. in spring i run a big loop around shoreview (west to arden hills, north up lexington to lino lakes, east on county road j to north oaks, south on hodson to vadnais heights, and back west to shoreview). along all of these roads i find the detritus of recent delinquency, though most of it is quickly cleaned up each spring.

suburban high school kids don't have much private space, so they tend to do stuff in cars and then throw said stuff out of cars quickly thereafter. i'm therefore thinking about compiling an index of leading delinquency indicators that will use winter trash to predict summer delinquency.

based on yesterday's run, i'd say that beer is down and liquor is way up. there were lots of cheap plastic whiskey bottles along the road -- mostly pints, but i did see what looked like an empty fifth of tanqueray on the north oaks side. i didn't see any sudafed boxes or other methaphernalia this year, but two years ago i found a heavy concentration near a large apartment complex. similarly, i only saw a couple reddi-wip (or similar) cans, suggesting that the kids are huffing less propellant than they had 5 or 10 years ago. maybe high school test scores will be up too!

more distressingly, kids are putting loud pipes on their trucks and cars again and yelling unintelligible things out the window to unsuspecting strangers. at least no drivers have trained a red laser dot on this runner recently. this spooked me a bit on a night run several years ago. i don't see much graffiti in shoreview, but someone had rearranged the letters on a church sign on hodson road -- worshippers were greeted sunday morning with a message that featured "69" quite prominently.

as a parent, i don't know whether to feel more worried or less worried when i see condoms along the road. i'm seeing fewer lately, but don't know whether this indicates greater abstinence or risktaking. perhaps it could be the former, since i haven't seen any discarded underwear along the road for some time. i still find lots of mysterious single shoes, of course.
if my leading indicators have any predictive power, the liquor bottles lead me to expect more alcohol poisoning and d.u.i. arrests this summer. on the upside, the decline in sudafed boxes is probably good news. one of my favorite local runners actually carries a trash bag along much of this route. i applaud his civic-mindedness, but will have to get up earlier to ensure that he doesn't contaminate my data.

i'm actually thinking about making such systematic data collection a paper or project option in my deviance and delinquency classes. what conclusions might students draw from the detritus of delinquency in their towns and neighborhoods? it would have some secondary environmental benefits, of course, and many of my students would know exactly where to look.

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