London School of Economics and Political Science: Burglary and shoplifting rates stayed lower after lockdowns, but public order offences have risen

Lockdowns led to marked changes in the patterns of crime recorded by police, with the number of burglaries falling while public order offences increased, according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The authors of the report Covid-19 and local crime rates in England and Wales – two years into the pandemic, published today by LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance (CEP), find that across England and Wales, the total number of crimes, excluding cybercrime, fell between 2019 and 2021.

But crime hasn’t fallen everywhere – in more than a third (37 per cent) of local areas, crime levels were higher in 2021 than in 2019. The analysis shows that areas with higher crime rates are likely to be those that have high unemployment.

Using detailed data on crimes recorded by police forces in England and Wales, the authors show that rates of robbery, burglary, shoplifting and theft are all lower than before the pandemic.

But the level of violent offences (which includes assault, harassment, and homicides), which had been on the rise for several years before the pandemic, has remained high, and public order offences (such as violent disorder, and drunk and disorderly behaviour) appear to have increased following lockdowns.

Tom Kirchmaier, director of CEP’s policing and crime research group, said: “Lockdowns reduced overall crime rates, but violent crimes remain at high levels – and so make up a larger proportion of the crimes that police are now dealing with. Since crime rates tend to be higher in areas with high unemployment, policies to reduce unemployment would have a positive impact on reducing crime.”

Carmen Villa-Llera, a researcher at CEP, said: “During lockdown, people worked from home and non-essential shops were shut, so it is not surprising that burglary and shoplifting rates fell. But even after the lifting of lockdown restrictions, such crimes have remained at lower levels. We believe that this trend is likely to continue as remote working and online shopping become the new norm.”

Shubhangi Agrawal, report co-author, said: “The notable differences in crime rates between areas has remained. While the burglary rate in areas that had both high unemployment pre-pandemic and a rise in unemployment during the pandemic, has fallen from 5.7 per 10,000 people in 2019 to 4.0 reports per 10,000 people in 2021 – this is still twice as high as the burglary rate in richer areas.”

The analysis uses data reported by Police UK, which enables researchers to look in detail at where crimes are committed. These geographical data do not include online fraud and offences.

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