COVID-19 lockdown policies linked to reduction in urban crime

Stay-at-home restrictions implemented around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been associated with an average 37 per cent reduction in crime across the globe, an international study has found.

University of Queensland researchers analysed daily cases of crime in 27 cities in 23 countries across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

UQ criminologist Dr Renee Zahnow said the introduction of lockdowns by governments globally in response to the COVID-19 pandemic had profound impacts, but it was unclear how these policies affected urban crime.

“Brisbane recorded an average reduction in urban crime of more than 40 per cent due to these stay-at-home measures,” Dr Zahnow said.

“Auckland, New Zealand, was just under 40 per cent, while the city of Lima in Peru had the largest overall reduction in crime rates.

“Malmo in Sweden had the smallest decrease in its crime rate.”

The study assessed the impact of lockdowns on six types of police-recorded crime (assault, theft, burglary, robbery, vehicle theft and homicide) in each city and compared them to pre-COVID-19 crime levels.

Dr Zahnow said although there were variations between cities and types of crime, overall the crime rate fell by a global average of 37 per cent thanks to stay-at-home policies.

“The average reduction was smallest for homicide at 14 per cent and largest for robbery and theft at 46 per cent and 47 per cent respectively,” she said.

“Burglaries reduced by 28 per cent, vehicle theft by 39 per cent and assault by 35 per cent within this range.

“Greater reductions in crime rate could also be predicted from tighter restrictions imposed on movement within public spaces.”

Professor Lorraine Mazerolle from UQ’s School of Social Science also contributed to the study and said it was an enormous effort to get 27 cities around the world to contribute data to explore the impact of stay-at-home measures on crime outcomes.

“The stay-at-home orders created more of what criminologists call ‘natural guardianship’ of homes, which is the likely reason for the drop in burglary,” Professor Mazerolle said.

“We are now working on the longer-term impacts of COVID on crime problems across the world.”

Future research will focus on how each wave of home lockdowns might impact crime rates and will delve into the dynamics of urban crime over a longer period with data from more cities.

Dr Zahnow said the impact of lockdown control measures on crime patterns in specific areas, such as crime hotspots, was also needed.

“Beyond COVID-19, this research will help to build our knowledge of how cities develop resilience to persistent and recurrent system changes,” she said.

The collaborative international study had 26 contributing authors including criminologists in UQ’s School of Social Science and members of the UQ-administered Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (the Life Course Centre).

The study featured collaborations between a range of international universities, criminology institutes, police forces, and ministries of justice.

This research is published in Nature Human Behaviour (DOI: 10.1038/s41562-021-01139-z).

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