Utrecht University: Analysis of crime in major cities during the lockdown

Amy Nivette external link, a sociologist at Utrecht University, wondered what effect the lockdown was having on crime in major cities. She collected crime data from 27 different major cities worldwide before, during and after the (first) lockdown. Nivette: “The figures show that during the lockdown, there was less crime in the cities. There were significant differences between the cities, however, as well as between the different kinds of criminal activity.” Her findings were published in Nature Human Behaviour external linkon 2 June.

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The cities whose crimes were analysed by Nivette and colleagues are mainly located in Europe (from Amsterdam to Zurich) and in North and South America (Chicago and Rio de Janeiro, for example). Nivette: “Because of the wide variety of cities and the different measures introduced in each country to contain the spread of COVID-19, comparison is not always easy. For example, we rely on reports made to the police. But people are more reluctant to report crime to the police in some cities than in others. Nonetheless, we can draw several conclusions from the analysis. One is that the greater the restriction of mobility in public spaces, the greater the drop in number of daily crimes.”

Six types of crime
In her study, Nivette distinguishes six types of crime: assault, theft, burglary, robbery, car theft and murder. The researchers observed that in all cities, the sudden reduction in urban activity had similar effects on these six types of crime. Nivette: “The average drop was greatest for robbery and theft, which fell by 46% and 47% respectively. This was followed by car theft (-39%), assault (-35%) and burglary (-28%). We therefore see the greatest effects on crimes that involve perpetrators and suitable victims or targets meeting in public spaces.”

The behaviour of gang members is likely to be less sensitive to the changes enforced by a lockdown.
The average drop was lowest for murder, where Nivette saw a 14% decrease. The Utrecht researcher puts forward a number of factors for this modest decrease. “In many societies, a significant proportion of murders are committed in the home. The restrictions on urban mobility may have little effect on domestic murders. In addition, organised crime – such as drug trafficking gangs – is responsible for a varying percentage of murders. The behaviour of these gangs is likely to be less sensitive to the changes enforced by a lockdown. This was also reflected in the figures in Mexico City, for example, where ordinary crimes decreased but crimes associated with organised crime (murder, extortion, kidnapping) did not.”

Amy Nivette coordinated the study between Utrecht University, the University of Cambridge and the University of São Paulo. Nivette and her colleagues had a collaboration from a large number of academics in other countries.

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