Criminal Beware: A Social Norms Perspective on Posting Public Warning Signs

Recent studies have suggested that crime-prevention strategies tend to interact with characteristics of the community in such a way that what works in one community might not work in another. In this article, we extend this finding to fear of crime and residents’ perceptions of crime using a Focus Theory of Normative Conduct framework. Data are reported from three experiments that examine the impact of publicly posted Neighborhood Watch signs on perceived crime rates and worry about victimization. The studies used a virtual community tour to assess the causal impact of Neighborhood Watch sign presence and content. Across the experiments, we consistently find the potential for publicly posted Neighborhood Watch signs to produce unintended con- sequences such as increased fear of crime and worry about victimization. Moreover, the outcomes associated with posting the signs are influenced not only by the information printed on the sign but also by an interaction between the signs themselves and the environmental con- text in which they are posted. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Schultz, P. W., & *Tabanico, J. T. (2009). Criminal beware: A social norms perspective on posting public warning signs. Criminology, 47, 1201-1222., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.