About

REDUCING THE UNANTICIPATED CRIME HARMS OF COVID-19 POLICIES  

Investigators: Dan Birks, Kate Bowers, Graham Farrell (PI), Shane Johnson, Nick Malleson, Nick Tilley

Researchers: Anthony Dixon, Sam Langton, Manja Nikolovska

Funding: Project ES/V00445X/1 of the Economic and Social Research Council under the UKRI Open Call on COVID-19

Page updated 09 October 2020

Background and Scope

The Home Office estimates the economic and social cost of crime in England and Wales at £50 billion. This includes costs in anticipation of crime, as a consequence of crime, and in response to crime (HORR 99), including a policing budget over £14 billion in 2019-20 (HOSB 10/19). Dramatic changes to crime as the inadvertent consequence of COVID-19 policies, means dramatic changes to the nature and distribution of those costs, with indicators of disproportionate impact upon vulnerable groups. Minimising unanticipated crime harms of the COVID-19 crisis is important. Equally, going forward it is also important for policy and practice to capitalise on research-based lessons from any falls in crime created as a by-product of Covid-19 as policies to contain the pandemic are relaxed. The letters of support for this bid, notably from the Home Office and College of Policing, indicate the national value of the proposed research.

Crime science, our overarching theoretical perspective, focuses on the role of opportunity in shaping crime event patterns and trends, involvement in crime, and criminal careers. Early reports suggest some crimes are currently declining and some increasing. For example, residential burglary, personal theft, shoplifting, and workplace crimes are declining as people stay home (more guardianship, fewer pedestrians and travellers, most shops being closed). Other crimes are increasing. These include domestic violence and child abuse (more interactions/opportunities as parents and children remain home), fraud against the elderly, and internet-related offences of various types. Self-isolating populations, more likely to include elderly and disabled, appear particularly vulnerable. Some less familiar crimes are increasing, such as fly-tipping due to council tip closures. Part of our research will be to more rigorously investigate the nature and extent of these changes in crime to inform the development of evidence-based responses.

We will address three time horizons. First, and most pressing, we will address short-term harms, such as those relating to increased domestic violence but reduced police arrest capacity. Second, we will address medium-term harms by anticipating the effects of different crisis lengths and exit strategies: a Harvard study (Kissler et al., Science, 14 April) suggests that, absent a vaccine, social distancing may continue to 2022 or perhaps 2024. We will explore the potential effects on crime and how to anticipate and mitigate prolonged COVID-19 scenarios and various exit strategies (such as graduated and/or cyclical exit strategies) Third, we will explore what will happen to crime ‘post-crisis’. This matters because some crimes, such as burglary and personal theft, are declining: We will explore possibilities for sustaining these inadvertent social gains. We will explore whether such crimes may otherwise revert to ‘normal’ levels or increase as offenders ‘make up for lost crime’.

Target Work Packages

WP1: Statistical Analysis of Crime Patterns and Changes: This will use (1) national police UK data and (2) data from three police services (MPS, Lancs, Durham), (3) industry data on fraud and e-crime, and (4) other agency data where available. Nesting more detailed service-level data in the national data (and international context) will allow us to determine scalability/generalisability of findings. Initially we will assess spatio-temporal change in crime across the spread of COVID-19 and policy changes: non-essential movement and lockdown start and relaxation dates are landmarks here; we will compare observed to expected rates from previous years (pre/post analysis using time series modelling). We will progress from this to problem-solving approaches in relation to potential future scenarios.

WP2: Lifestyles and ambient population. Movement, or its absence, is central to crime. We will use data from multiple sources (e.g. on-street cameras capturing footfall, Google mobility data) to link to changes in crime rates. This will allow us to track existing changes to date and develop estimates for modelling of other scenarios.

WP3: National and International Advisory Team Work on Best Practice Sharing: Our national (Home Office, College of Policing)  and international advisory teams will feed information relating to policy, practice and research elsewhere. They will guide other aspects of our research. The international advisors will facilitate cross-national comparative work with the Netherlands, Australia and the US. We have previously collaborated successfully with all three international partners (see e.g. Johnson et al. 2007).

WP4: Fraud, E-crime and Crime Futures:. We will identify emerging fraud and e-crime opportunities and prevention possibilities as described previously. We will develop this work through SDJs ‘Future Crimes’ network of stakeholders including the voluntary sector and industry. Specifically, we have existing working relationships with the CEOs of Help the Aged, Neighbourhood Watch, and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, and anticipate working with them on these issues should this research be funded. We will also undertake a Delphi study to explore current and anticipated crime problems.

 WP5: Simulation Modelling: Simulation modelling of the spread of COVID-19 is well known. Adapting existing computational criminology models, and developing new models where appropriate, we will conduct exploratory simulation of the impacts of COVID-19 on crime/policing under various potential policy scenarios, exit strategies and ‘post-crisis’ scenarios.

WP6: Continual Improvement and Identification of Future Needs: We recognise the limitations of police data due to unrecorded crime. SDJs existing Crime Futures network will work with industry data on fraud and online crimes. We will involve additional agency partners to improve information in key areas such as domestic violence and child abuse (e.g. we have made positive preliminary contact with Childline), and we anticipate good cooperation in the crisis. We will identify other potential sources and analytic approaches: The Crime Survey for England and Wales, for example, which captures much unrecorded crime, offers great potential for the future but is usually a year or so after events, and we will approach ONS to explore those possibilities.

Data 

The national Police UK data will complement more detailed data from our three partner police services – Metropolitan Police Service (London), Durham and Lancashire Constabularies. The partner services cover rural and urban areas. We recognise many crimes are not reported to the police: Prof Johnson’s existing Crime Futures network (run with the Home Office, Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Neighbourhood Watch) will allow us to utilise available data on fraud and online crime.

Deliverables

We envisage deliverables of three types:

(1) The first is Briefings for police and other agencies, initially unpublished feedback reports that are revised for publication in practitioner outlets (e.g. Policing Insight) containing empirical findings of crime patterns and trends. 

(2) The second is Briefings for policy-makers, detailing crime changes and anticipatory work plus indications of strategies and tactics (or types of advice) for pre-empting rises when and where these are expected. For example, we have begun a briefing document on fly-tipping for the JDI Briefs series.

(3) The third will be targeted at the research community, including an ‘early findings’ study, with others spaced through the research and at its conclusion. For timely dissemination, we will load pre-prints to SocArXiv.