Crime during the coronavirus pandemic

Categories: Salford Business School

Experts from The University of Manchester and The University of Salford have been investigating how lockdown has affected crime rates in England.

Understanding the impact of lockdown on criminal behaviour

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions on mobility and social freedoms have disrupted economic activity on a global scale.

Experts at the universities of Manchester and Salford saw the opportunity to monitor the impact of different national and local lockdown policies on criminal behaviour and illegal activity.  They identified that results could provide an important information point for the government and police as the country follows the roadmap out of restrictions.

Identifying trends in the data

Experts from both universities have published a joint research paper, Crime in the Era of COVID-19: Evidence from England, which considers local authority month-level data to understand the impact that lockdowns may have had on criminal behaviour. Data was analysed from the period of enforcement between March and December 2020, taking into account several categories of crimes and lockdown arrangements at both national and local implementation. Currently, this is the only study that monitors criminal activity during the pandemic in such a way, and over such a long coverage of the lockdown period.

The study interprets local-level data across England to offer insight into how recorded crime changed during the two phases of national shutdown and re-opening. It found that during the latter phase, the local lockdown systems affected crime counts, and which types of crimes rose or fell. The analysis uses data that dates back to May 2013 to allow for a meaningful comparison of recorded crimes before and since the onset of the pandemic-induced lockdowns.

Linking local and national crime to COVID-19 lockdowns

Dr Kyriakos Neanidis, Reader in Macroeconomics at Manchester explains what the data demonstrates about levels of offence across different criminal categories:

“We found that national lockdowns led to an increase in crimes against society, such as public order, anti-social behaviour and drug offences, but all other crimes, such as crimes against the person and property went down, mainly because people were not leaving their homes so much. As strict lockdowns were eased across the country, recorded crime moved toward its pre-pandemic level but stayed well below it.”

Dr Neanidis also highlights the economic impact of changes in criminal behaviour.

“The analysis also allowed us to come up with estimated figures by how much the country benefitted economically due to changes in crime. To our knowledge this is the first time such figures are being calculated.”

Dr Maria Rana is a Lecturer in Economics at Salford, with research interests in the economics of crime, organised crime and corruption.

“We are the first to look at the criminal impact of local lockdowns, as well as examining the effects of national lockdowns. The effects of local lockdowns on recorded crime were not as strong as those of national lockdowns, and were mainly restricted to a handful of crimes, such as anti-social behaviour and weapons possession offences.”

Consequently, the impact of lockdown on criminal activity can provide important guidance for government as they allow for further easing of restrictions in the weeks and months ahead.

Dr Rana explains: “we also found that the government’s decision to change the way it conducted local lockdowns in October 2020 did not have a discernible effect on crime compared to earlier local lockdown arrangements.”

“There will surely be adjustments to criminal behaviour once we get back to normal and the government and the police need to know what levels of crime we could be looking at.”


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