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“Crime in Post-Katrina Houston” Study by Settles and Lindsay


The research article analyzed in the discussed paper presents the results of the study conducted by Settles and Lindsay (2011). The article investigates the topic of moral panic in the United States because of Hurricane Katrina and its influence on crime rates and the general state of the region. The study uses a mixed-method approach, which is relatively new to the social sciences in order to research the topic (Creswell, 2014).

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It was published in a peer-reviewed journal Disasters touching upon such spheres as crime and emergency management. Speaking about the most prominent features of the article, it is important to be mentioned that the combination of qualitative data and statistics used by the researchers definitely helps to extend the knowledge on the subject and regard the studied situation from different points of view.

Research Article


In the first section of the article, the researchers introduce and explain the primary concepts that are used throughout the study. Thus, the authors present the notion of moral panic and explain it as the variety of reactions that are based on the exaggerated opinion that certain people (who often belong to some of the minority groups) can compromise the safety of the entire society. Apart from providing the comprehensive definition aimed at summarizing the perceptions of moral panic, the researchers discuss the role that the concept plays in modern culture.

According to them, it is often used as a paradigm mentioned when there is a need to explain preconceptions or fears towards certain contradictory events. The statement of purpose can be listed among the most important elements that should be presented in the introduction section. As for the discussed article, the authors claim that the study has been conducted in order to define if moral panic can be regarded as one of the reasons why the social influence of evacuees was overestimated.

Therefore, the objective of the study is to apply the concept of moral panic to the situation and define its role. The title chosen by the authors seems to state the subject of the paper precisely as it highlights the primary circumstances related to the case.

The statement of purpose that is presented in the introduction section matches the one included in the opening sentence of the abstract. As for the sequence of statements included in the introduction section, it leads coherently to the purpose of the study; the researchers start their discussion from explaining the meaning of moral panic, draw the links between this phenomenon and mass media, provide background information concerning the disaster, and then present the purpose. To sum it up, the introduction written by the authors possesses numerous strengths and, therefore, helps to keep the readers interested.

Literature Review

Among other things, the discussed article includes a kind of literature review section that follows the introduction and precedes the discussion of methods. There are two paragraphs that focus on different topics. The first part of the review discusses the findings of different researchers focusing on the link that exists between disaster migration and the changing crime rate. Having reviewed a few studies devoted to the topic, the researchers conclude that there is a significant lack of knowledge in the field.

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In the second part of the literature review, the researchers pay special attention to the way that moral panic is represented in the works by modern researchers. According to the discussed findings, when there is an obvious moral panic, it can be used as a pretext to get additional funding or other resources. In the case discussed by the researchers, moral panic is proposed as the possible reason why the arrival of evacuees from different parts of the country, including New Orleans, was associated with an increased crime rate.

In the second part of their literature review, the authors make an attempt to summarize the knowledge concerning moral panic that seems to be rather successful. Despite that, it needs to be noted that little attention is paid to the discussion of the credibility of those studies that were mentioned in the section. At the same time, the implications of previous findings for the discussed are explained in a rather detailed way.


In the methods section of the discussed article, the authors present comprehensive information explaining why the particular methodological approach has been chosen. To provide a rationale for using the mixed methods approach, the researchers cover a topic of the studied variables at great length. Thus, they attract the attention of the audience to the fact that there were three research questions.

First, the authors report the intention to define whether the media representation of illegal acts attributed to evacuees was disproportionate that can indicate the influence of moral panic. Apart from that, the research was focused on the question that stems from the previous one; this question touches upon the primary characteristics of moral panic that can be identified in the given case. Finally, the authors aim at developing a set of recommendations for regional powers that can be successfully used if moral panic occurs.

Having identified the key research questions, the authors state that the use of mixed methods has helped them to fulfil the primary tasks associated with the research. As if follows from the research questions identified by the authors, an ideal methodology would help to work both with statistical and qualitative data; the mixed-methods design can be regarded as the most appropriate alternative in those cases when there is a need to integrate different types of information to fully understand the situation.

The methods section of the article provides a detailed discussion of methods and tools utilized by the researchers; thus, speaking about the first, quantitative component of the research, the authors indicate that there was a need for the testing of crimes that took place in the region before and after the disaster that occurred twelve years ago. Using the concept of moral panic developed based on the works by previous researchers in the field, the authors used the quantitative approach to prove that moral panic took place in Houston after the disaster and find out whether the evacuees were vilified in mass media. To fulfil the given task, it was decided to make sure whether the crime rate in Houston increased after the disaster.

The task involved estimating changes between the amount of crime in Houston before and after the disaster and arrival of evacuated people and defining whether the found differences possess statistical significance to be regarded as extensive proof. Using the criminal records from Houston related to the period before and after the evacuation, the researchers processed the information with the help of the t-test.

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The latter is known as one of the most frequently used tools helping to define whether two independent or interdependent data sets have the same mean values, or there is a statistically significant difference between them. The choice of this method of data analysis can be seen as a rather successful decision due to its broad applicability in quantitative research and reliability. Therefore, the method is valid for studying the problem.

In reference to the second part of the study that is focused on the analysis of qualitative data, the researchers decided to use the method of content analysis. The materials that were analyzed with the help of this method included articles retrieved from local and national newspapers. Using this method, the authors have managed to analyze a large set of data (more than 450 articles from different sources were used) with the help of special software for content analysis.

An important detail related to the qualitative analysis conducted by the researchers is connected with the unit of analysis. In order to be able to retrieve detailed information concerning social problems caused by the disaster and its consequences, it was decided to set individual lines as the unit of analysis instead of using the entire articles as a whole. According to the researchers, they decided to use the so-called line-by-line strategy in order to be able to retrieve as many relevant facts as possible.

In fact, there is a range of qualitative methods that can be used to study various institutions; for instance, the SNA method serves to study the relationships between social entities in a comprehensive manner (Protogerou, Caloghirou, & Siokas, 2013).

The methods chosen by the authors (the t-test and content analysis) seem to be valid for studying the problem identified and reviewed in the previous sections. When it comes to the t-test, it presents the method of research that involves numerous advantages; in fact, researchers in different fields use the method when there is the need to compare the mean values associated with two data sets whereas the necessity to analyze three or more samples of data usually makes the method less reliable.

In terms of the qualitative component, the method of content analysis can be regarded as the best choice because other common qualitative methods such as interviews or observations would not be appropriate due to the specific focus of the research question on mass media. At the same time, other methods, such as case studies, are also successfully used by researchers related to the field (Cacari-Stone, Wallerstein, Garcia, & Minkler, 2014).

In terms of essential information presented by the researchers, the latter seems to provide a comprehensive explanation of how the methods were implemented – therefore, the study can be duplicated from the information presented in the section. When it comes to the sample selection, the sample presented and described in the article seems to be large enough to help the researchers to generalize information related to the situation under analysis. The sequence of methods presented in the given section is clear and pertinent.


The next section included in the article is aimed at presenting the results retrieved with the help of qualitative and quantitative methods used by the researchers. At the beginning of the section, the authors present the results related to the quantitative component of the study. According to the previous sections, the task of this component was to help the authors to define whether the situation related to crime in Houston has changed with the arrival of people evacuated after the disaster.

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The objective evidence obtained with the help of the researchers’ efforts includes the results of t-tests. Being aimed at defining the statistical significance of identified differences related to crime rates, the t-tests showed that the differences were associated with all kinds of crime studied. According to the results presented in the section, the crime rates in the city increased with the arrival of evacuated people.

Having conducted a series of t-tests (the results were calculated for every type of offense separately), the authors found out that, even though there were a number of found differences, the majority of them did not possess statistical significance. Due to that, the authors came to the conclusion that the perceived increase in crime could occur just because of the influence of a set of random factors. Obviously, the result contributed to answering the research questions identified in the previous sections.

The second part of the section is used to present the results retrieved with the help of the qualitative method. Discussing the particular practices applied to get the results, the researchers mention that the analysis was based on the use of twelve categories. They also confirm that more than thirty percent of lines in analyzed texts contained information on crimes committed by evacuees; at the same time, some of them were just discussing other problems somehow related to evacuated people.

Among the most relevant and surprising findings indicated by the researchers, there was a fact that a certain number of analyzed lines of text (less than ten percent) were focused on the series of mistakes made by the federal authorities. Speaking about other findings reported in the section, it is important to note that the researchers have managed to identify a range of the most frequently mentioned themes. In general, the latter was related to the specific types of crime associated with the growing number of evacuees in the city.

Among the discussed crimes, there was sexual abuse, robbery with the use of force, and even murder. Apart from these themes identified within the frame of the content analysis, an important topic touched upon in some of the articles was money matter. In fact, the authors of some articles were paying special attention to additional expenses needed to fight against crime and the money received from the emergency management agency to clamp down on criminal activity in the city.

In general, the content analysis demonstrated that the most urgent problems discussed in mass media were the cases of new lawless acts, the inability of evacuated people to act in accordance with cultural and social norms accepted in the city, problems related to the police operation, and criticism of the government (Rojek, Alpert, & Smith, 2012). These conclusions are based on the statistical data presented by the researchers in a few tables; thus, the issues found in the analyzed lines were prioritized.

The results, associated with the qualitative component of the study, have also made a significant contribution to answering the research question identified in the previous sections. Due to the content analysis and the right choice of unit of analysis, the authors found out that moral panic and media representation of people evacuated after the disaster are strictly interconnected.


Discussing the results retrieved within the frame of the research, the authors claim that the existence of moral panic in Houston is obvious. As for the other findings and their interpretation, it is obvious that the authors suppose that article writers were blackening the picture while discussing the situation with criminal activity in the city; the increase in crime rates after the arrival of evacuees was statistically insignificant, whereas the majority of sources were attributing new crimes to this group of people.

In general, it can be said that the discussion provided by the authors repeats the results; there are no statements that are not supported by the evidence presented in the previous sections. Also, it is clear that the interpretation provided in the section stems is based only on the results reported earlier. At the same time, the researchers introduce new statements to clarify their point of view and demonstrate that they do not try to demonstrate that journalists are to blame; instead, they claim that the situation is much more complicated than it may seem to be.

The authors also state that the stigmatization of people who have lost their property due to the disaster is obvious from the results of statistical analysis. The shortcomings of the research are addressed in one of the paragraphs; for instance, they acknowledge that the use of print articles cannot be regarded as the best way to study moral panic as there are other important sources used by citizens. The interpretation proposed by the authors is partially supported by other sources. As for the weaknesses of the section, it does not discuss the implications of findings in a detailed way, but the existing research possibilities are reviewed.


In the end, the study demonstrates numerous strengths related to the choice of methods and the accuracy of testing. Despite that, there is a number of weaknesses that are acknowledged by the researchers. First, it can be extremely difficult to evaluate the situation with crime objectively as there are always illegal acts that do not involve police intervention and, therefore, cannot be taken into account. Moreover, analyzing only the printed press, the researchers were unable to see the aggregate picture of criminal activity in the city after the arrival of evacuees. Acknowledging the significance of studies conducted by previous authors, the researchers used them as a theoretical basis.

New questions related to the topic of moral panic were formulated by the authors. In terms of the importance of the study, it can be supposed that it possesses significance for the particular field as it adds to the knowledge concerning moral panic and other issues that it entails. Despite that, practical applications of the results are not presented in an appropriate manner, which acts as a significant weakness of the study.

Similarly, the authors do not present comprehensive information concerning the ways to use the findings in connection with politics or emergency planning. Therefore, the significance of the research is a controversial question. Unlike other studies, such as the one conducted by Sanders (2012), the reviewed article is focused on the results and underestimates the importance of practical significance. Based on the conclusions made during the evaluation, it can be supposed that the situation can be improved if the researchers pay more attention to the practical implications of their findings.


Cacari-Stone, L., Wallerstein, N., Garcia, A. P., &Minkler, M. (2014). The promise of community-based participatory research for health equity: A conceptual model for bridging evidence with policy. American Journal of Public Health, 104(9), 1615-1623.

Creswell, J. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Protogerou, A., Caloghirou, Y., & Siokas, E. (2013). Twenty-five years of science-industry collaboration: The emergence and evolution of policy-driven research networks across Europe. Journal of Technology Transfer, 38(6), 873-895.

Rojek, J., Alpert, G., & Smith, H. (2012). The utilization of research by the police. Police Practice & Research, 13(4), 329-341.

Sanders, L. (2012). How 4 colleges take on veterans’ issues, in research and real life. Chronicle of Higher Education. Web.

Settles, T., & Lindsay, B. R. (2011). Crime in post-Katrina Houston: The effects of moral panic on emergency planning. Disasters, 35(1), 200-219.

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