Reducing the unanticipated crime harms of Covid-19 policies

The COVID-19 crisis is changing the shape of crime. Lockdown requires people to stay home, leading to domestic violence and child abuse increases. Yet social distancing means police are arresting fewer suspects: reduced services at time of greater need. COVID-19 gives fraudsters a ‘conversation starter’ to approach people in-person, via text, email and online. Remote working and online leisure activities, furloughs and financial difficulties, provide more potential targets for online crimes of various types. Vulnerable groups including the elderly and disabled are more at risk. Yet a recent Harvard study (Kissler et al. Science, 14 April 2020) suggests that, with the absence of a vaccine, social distancing may continue into 2022, perhaps 2024.

In this context our research project uses crime science to anticipate crime effects of prolonged, graduated or cyclical exit strategies to inform evidence-based policy and practice. The radical changes in crime behaviours brought about by COVID-19 require detailed analysis in order to inform policy responses or pre-emptive action, both in the short and longer terms.

The project seeks to anticipate post-crisis scenarios and aims to contribute towards a sustained decline in crimes like burglary, to avoid crime levels returning to ‘normal’ by using (1) national police data, (2) detailed data from three police partners, (3) fraud and e-crime data from industry, and (4) sources from other agencies such as Childline (for unreported crime). Pre/post-change analysis will use a combination of time-series and spatial modelling. Nesting force-level analysis in the national and international context will allow for a gauge of scalability.

The project team consists of experts across crime science and analysis, environmental criminology and situational crime prevention, forensic psychology, agent-based modelling, geographical information science and urban analytics. In addition to police and industry partners who will provide access to crime data and related expertise, the project will work closely with national (College of Policing, National Police Chiefs’ Council, UK Home Office) and international (Griffith University, Netherlands Institute for Law Enforcement Research, Temple University) advisors. The aim is to inform policy and practice, producing a range of deliverables including policy and practice briefings and research articles.

This project arises from UK Research and Innovation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which invited proposals for short to medium-term economic and social research activity aimed at addressing and mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Project website