News/Op-Ed: The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Had A Drastic Effect On Crime Rates Around The World

by Jackson Smith

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has struck communities around the world, the various effects of the shutdown and restrictions on crime have been overlooked. The results paint a complex picture dependent on region and crime severity. 

As a whole, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, crime has decreased due to peer groups seldom meeting in order to stay safe from the virus. However, it appears that minor offenders have been put in situations where crime against intimate partners such as battery, violence and homicide is likely. 

In European countries, intentional homicide is down almost 25%. However, this is only true when a country is in lockdown, and almost immediately when these restrictions are relaxed, the rates of homicide move right back up to the normal amounts, which is, of course, very interesting. 

Out of the countries that were studied, countries in Latin America saw a much smaller change in the rate of violent crimes. 

The difference between the European and Latin American countries’ violent crime rates could be due to the different amount of restrictions that respective governments imposed, pre-existing socioeconomic conditions and a different pattern in the type of these crimes in the two, as Latin American homicide was mainly due to organized crime where European homicide was more closely related to more personal reasons. 

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the property crime rate has been down about 50% since the start of the pandemic. Although it is something to be proud of, the longer term effects of Covid may have the opposite effect that the initial hit had. 

As COVID-19 continues to affect societies worldwide, the increase in unemployment could have a continued larger impact on groups that cannot afford to be out of work. If unemployment continues to be a problem for vulnerable groups, then that could produce a rise in property crime or other crime rates.

Restrictive measures due to COVID-19 also help draw back on opportunities for people to commit street crime. On top of that, stay-at-home orders would reduce criminals breaking into private homes. Social distancing measures and the closure of meeting places will also reduce interpersonal violence and public crimes.

There are two theories for how people will react. One is the opportunity theory, which is basically that since people have less of an opportunity to commit crime, they will subsequently commit less crime. The other theory is that strain theory, where the socioeconomic strains on people will push them to commit crime, which may be much more prevalent – and relevant – during the pandemic shutdowns. 

Whether the Opportunity Theory or the Strain Theory are more prominent depends on outside factors, such as what the restrictions are, the support that governments give to their people to overcome the challenges of such a difficult time and pre-existing situations that could push a person toward either theory.

A significant part of the overall reduction of crime is related to the drop of minor crimes that were committed as groups. These crimes were typically done by younger offenders, so the temporary removal of the often forced peer groups that younger people were put into would naturally due to pandemic shutdowns and restrictions removed many individuals from convening as groups and committing crimes as they’d usually do pre-COVID

In the two hotspots of homicide in the United States, Philadelphia and Chicago, homicide rates have either stagnated or increased since the start of COVID-19. However, interpersonal violence has increased because of the government mandated home confinements. Thus, for already violent places, the pandemic could keep violent crime stagnated at best and be harmful at its worst. 

However, due to vaccine rollouts, life may be going back to normal sooner rather than later. Whatever effect going back to normal means on crime rates remains to be seen. 

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