Research Press Release

Social science: COVID-19 stay-at-home policies linked to 37% reduction in urban crime

Nature Human Behaviour

June 2, 2021

Stay-at-home policies — implemented globally in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — were associated with a 37% reduction in crime, on average, in 27 cities across 23 countries, finds a study published in Nature Human Behaviour.

The introduction of lockdowns by governments around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has had — and continues to have — far-reaching effects on the ways in which we conduct our lives. However, it is unclear how these policies have affected urban crime, globally.

Amy Nivette and colleagues analysed daily cases of crime in 27 cities located in 23 countries across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. These data were used to assess the impact of lockdowns on six types of police-recorded crime (assault, theft, burglary, robbery, vehicle theft and homicide) in each city by comparing them to pre-COVID-19 crime levels. Although variations existed on a city-by-city basis and according to the type of crime assessed, overall, stay at home policies were associated with a 37% reduction in crime. The average reduction was smallest for homicide (14%) and largest for robbery (46%) and theft (47%), with reductions for burglary (28%), vehicle theft (37%) and assault (35%) within this range. Greater reductions in crime rate could also be predicted from tighter restrictions imposed on movement within public spaces.

The limited reductions for homicide may be explained by several factors, argue the authors. In many societies, a considerable proportion of homicides are committed in domestic contexts and are therefore not affected by stay-at-home orders. Separately, a varying amount of homicides are associated with organized crime, gang conflicts or drug trafficking, and the behaviour of these groups may be less affected by changes in the daily routines of those not involved in organized crime.

The authors note that future research should delve into the dynamics of urban crime in the longer term, using data collected from more cities worldwide. An assessment of the impact of lockdown control measures on crime patterns in specific areas — such as crime hotspots — is also needed.

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