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Covid-19 cuts city crime in 23 countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe

Prasun Sonwalkar/London
Filed on June 3, 2021

(Reuters file)

Reveals a study published in in the journal 'Nature Human Behaviour'.


Lockdowns and other restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic have not only slowed and altered everyday life, but also criminal activities: a new analysis across 27 cities in 23 countries has found a 37 per cent overall drop in police-recorded crime.

The analysis by criminologists at the University of Cambridge and University of Utrecht conducted across Europe, the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East examined trends in daily crime counts before and after Covid restrictions in major metropolitan areas such as Barcelona, Chicago, Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv, Brisbane, and London.

The stringency of lockdowns and the resulting crime reductions varied considerably from city to city, but the researchers found that most types of crime – with the key exception of homicide – fell significantly in the study sites.

Across all the 27 cities that included Muzaffarpur in India, daily assaults fell by an average of 35 per cent, and robberies (theft using violence or intimidation, such as muggings) almost halved: falling an average of 46 per cent. Other types of theft, from pick-pocketing to shop-lifting, fell an average of 47 per cent.

“City living has been dramatically curtailed by Covid-19, and crime is a big part of city life,” said Manuel Eisner, director of the Violence Research Centre at the University of Cambridge and senior author of the study published in the journal 'Nature Human Behaviour'.

He added: “...No days spent in shops and cafés or at the racetrack or football match. Some cities even introduced curfews. It choked the opportunism that fuels so much urban crime. We found the largest reductions in crimes where motivated offenders and suitable victims converge in a public space. There would be far fewer potential targets in the usual crime hotspots such as streets with lots of nightclubs”.

London saw less pronounced but still significant falls in crime, with daily robberies dropping by 60 per cent, theft by 44 per cent, and burglaries by 29 per cent. The two US cities in the study, Chicago and San Francisco had their best results in the category of assault, falling by 34 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively.

The theft of vehicles fell an average of 39 per cent and the researchers found that tougher restrictions on the use of buses and trains during lockdowns were linked to greater falls in vehicle theft – suggesting that negotiating cities via public transport is often a prerequisite for stealing a set of wheels.

Burglary also fell an average of 28 per cent across all cities. However, lockdowns affected burglary numbers in markedly different ways from city to city. While Lima in Peru saw rates plunge by 84 per cent, San Francisco actually saw a 38 per cent increase in break-ins as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

Amy Nivette from the University of Utrecht added: “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”.





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