Crime rates drop after lockdown

Crime goes down when everyone's locked up
08 June 2021

Interview with 

Manuel Eisner, University of Cambridge


Hands in the air that have been cuffed


The pandemic has affected all of our lives in innumerable ways. It feels sometimes like nothing’s escaped its grasp, and turns out, crime definitely hasn’t. New research In Nature Human Behaviour has pointed to dropping rates of crime around the world, from Barcelona to Brisbane as lockdowns were put into effect. Manuel Eisner from the University of Cambridge spoke to Adam Murphy about the work...

Manuel - We have been looking at police recorded crimes, and we've basically been looking at common crimes, such as robbery, burglary, and theft. Overall across these cities we find a decline by about 35%, which is quite a substantial decline. But I think one of the interesting things about our findings is that there was a lot of difference between different types of crime. The strongest decline was for robbery and theft, which dropped by about 50%. On average, there was less of a decline for assault and there was no decline actually for homicide. And then there was also a lot of variation between different cities. We included 28 cities and in some cities, the decline was by about 90%. In other cities, almost nothing happened.

Adam - And why did this happen? How did this effect come about with lockdown?

Manuel - We believe that a number of factors were in play. Overall, first of all, we used a measure of the severity of the lockdown, to what extent were people required to stay at home. And to what extent was the stay at home policy enforced, not just by the police, but in some places also by the military. And overall, we find that the more rigorous the lockdown was, the greater was the decline in crime. Now several factors played a role and one of them, of course, was that it becomes more difficult to report a crime, even if it happened, we believe that plays a role, but don't think this is the entire story. The second factor is that common crime feeds on opportunities. As long as you have shops open, you have lots of streets, people in the streets, you have lots of people in public transport, you have lots of vehicles on the streets. Then there are lots of opportunities to commit crime, and these opportunities decline a lot. And thirdly, we believe that for some types of crime, social control increased, we observed, for example, the decline in burglaries. And that's probably because just more people stayed at home and were thus capable guardians who could protect their properties.

Adam - What about those kinds of crimes for people who are stuck at home? Things like domestic violence and homicide from someone you know, what kind of rights did you see there?

Manuel - I think it's really important to bear in mind that the police data that we've been using, and we make this very clear in the report, are not valid indicators of domestic crimes and domestic violence. There is substantial evidence suggesting that at least in some parts of the world, domestic violence increased quite substantially. And that's one of the types of crime that increased as a result of the COVID crisis. There is a second domain of crimes that has increased. And also we have not been able to look at this more closely, and that's everything related to non-contact crime, such as fraud and cyber crimes. They probably both increased. So I think it's important to bear in mind that different types of crime were affected in different ways by the lockdown.

Adam - What happens after lockdown? Do we just go back to a new normal or will it bounce back? Are there things we can keep in mind? Because we're not going to have military enforced lockdowns when all this ends,

Manuel - We very much hope that we won't have another round of lockdowns, although we can never be sure. There is every likelihood that crime will bounce back. It actually already did bounce back during the summer last year, when the measures, lockdown measures, were relaxed in many places across Europe. It will bounce back almost certainly, but there is also a likelihood that it will bounce back above the levels that we have seen before COVID. Over the crisis a lot of tensions and strains have built up; people being unhappy, people being frustrated, strained, and it may well be that in the coming months, we could be in for a bad surprise in terms of crime levels, as they may increase above the levels that we have seen. One example for this is the United States where actually homicide has increased already above the levels before the COVID crisis.



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