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COVID and crime: An early empirical look


  • Abrams, David S.


Data from 25 large U.S. cities is assembled to estimate the impact of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic on crime. There is a widespread immediate drop in both criminal incidents and arrests most heavily pronounced among drug crimes, theft, residential burglaries, and most violent crimes. The decline appears to precede stay-at-home orders, and arrests follow a similar pattern as reports. There is no decline in homicides and shootings, and an increase in non-residential burglary and car theft in most cities, suggesting that criminal activity was displaced to locations with fewer people. Pittsburgh, New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Chicago each saw overall crime drops of at least 35%. Evidence from police-initiated reports and geographic variation in crime change suggests that most of the observed changes are not due to changes in crime reporting.

Suggested Citation

  • Abrams, David S., 2021. "COVID and crime: An early empirical look," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 194(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:194:y:2021:i:c:s0047272720302085
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2020.104344

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    2. Carter, Travis M. & Turner, Noah D., 2021. "Examining the immediate effects of COVID-19 on residential and commercial burglaries in Michigan: An interrupted time-series analysis," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 76(C).
    3. Carlos Díaz & Sebastian Fossati & Nicolás Trajtenberg, 2022. "Stay at home if you can: COVID‐19 stay‐at‐home guidelines and local crime," Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 19(4), pages 1067-1113, December.
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    8. Farzanegan, Mohammad Reza & Gholipour, Hassan F., 2023. "COVID-19 fatalities and internal conflict: Does government economic support matter?," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 78(C).
    9. Amalia R. Miller & Carmit Segal & Melissa K. Spencer, 2024. "Effects of the COVID‐19 pandemic on domestic violence in Los Angeles," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 91(361), pages 163-187, January.
    10. Brancati, Dawn & Birnir, Johanna & Qutaiba Idlbi, Qutaiba Idlbi, 2023. "Locking down vIolence: The covid-19 pandemic’s impact on non-state actor violence," MPRA Paper 116781, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 30 Jan 2023.
    11. Abu S. Shonchoy & Shatakshee Dhongde & Erdal Asker, 2023. "COVID-19 Lockdown and Neonatal Mortality: Evidence from India," Working Papers 2303, Florida International University, Department of Economics.
    12. Jesse Matheson & Brendon McConnell & James Rockey & Argyris Sakalis, 2023. "Do Remote Workers Deter Neighborhood Crime? Evidence from the Rise of Working from Home," Working Papers 2023020, The University of Sheffield, Department of Economics.
    13. Yichen Shen & Rong Fu & Haruko Noguchi, 2021. "COVID‐19's Lockdown and Crime Victimization: The State of Emergency under the Abe Administration," Asian Economic Policy Review, Japan Center for Economic Research, vol. 16(2), pages 327-348, July.
    14. Lydia Cheung & Philip Gunby, 2023. "The Initial and Dynamic Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Crime in New Zealand," Working Papers 2023-03, Auckland University of Technology, Department of Economics.
    15. Kyriakos C. Neanidis & Maria P. Rana, 2023. "Crime in the era of COVID‐19: Evidence from England," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(5), pages 1100-1130, November.
    16. Miller, Amalia R. & Segal, Carmit & Spencer, Melissa K., 2022. "Effects of COVID‐19 shutdowns on domestic violence in US cities," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C).
    17. Wolff, Kevin T. & Intravia, Jonathan & Baglivio, Michael T. & Piquero, Alex R., 2022. "Violence in the Big Apple throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: A borough-specific analysis," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 81(C).
    18. Carr, Joel & James, Jonathan & Clifton-Sprigg, Joanna & Vujic, Suncica, 2022. "Hate in the Time of COVID-19: Racial Crimes against East Asians," IZA Discussion Papers 15718, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    19. Roee Sarel, 2022. "Crime and punishment in times of pandemics," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 54(2), pages 155-186, October.
    20. Diego A. Martin & Dario A. Romero, 2023. "Pretending to be the Law: Violence to Reduce the COVID-19 Outbreak," CID Working Papers 155a, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    21. Randy Seepersad & Corin Bailey & Lina Marmolejo, 2023. "Social Solidarity and Crime: The COVID-19 Effect in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago," Journal of Developing Societies, , vol. 39(4), pages 421-444, December.
    22. Enrique Garcia Tejeda, 2022. "La concentracion espacial de los reportes de disparos al 911 en la Ciudad de Mexico: ¿Comportamiento racional en el uso de armas durante la pandemia Covid-19?," Sobre México. Revista de Economía, Sobre México. Temas en economía, vol. 3(5), pages 69-93.
    23. Xinyu Zhang & Peng Chen, 2023. "The Impact of Urban Facilities on Crime during the Pre- and Pandemic Periods: A Practical Study in Beijing," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 20(3), pages 1-16, January.
    24. Juan F Domínguez D & Johnny Truong & Jake Burnett & Lata Satyen & Hamed Akhlaghi & Julian Stella & Nick Rushworth & Karen Caeyenberghs, 2022. "Effects of the Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic on Assault-Related Head Injury in Melbourne: A Retrospective Study," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 20(1), pages 1-19, December.
    25. Claudia Masferrer & Oscar Rodríguez Chávez, 2022. "Are homicides and robberies associated with mortality due to COVID-19? Lessons from Urban Mexico," Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, Vienna Institute of Demography (VID) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, vol. 20(1), pages 367-390.

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    More about this item


    Coronavirus; COVID-19; COVID; Crime; Pandemic; Criminal Justice;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H76 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Other Expenditure Categories
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law


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