Does Covid-19 influence crime? The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on crime in NSW
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Restrictions imposed to control the spread of Covid-19 have led to rapid and unprecedented changes to daily life. Research from NSW and across the world, indicates that measures introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular stay at home orders, have significantly impacted the nature and trends of criminal incidents.
Restrictions in NSW
In March 2020, the NSW Government imposed a number of restrictions on people across NSW. Initially these restrictions included bans on non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 people or more, social distancing and travel for essential purposes only. In late March 2020, these restrictions were extended to the temporary shut-down of non-essential activities and businesses. From April to the beginning of July 2020, these restrictions were gradually eased, until the current public health orders that commenced at the end of June 2021.
NSW Recorded Crime Statistics
Statistics released on 15 September 2021 by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), highlight that crime fell sharply in April 2020 coinciding with strict social isolation strategies introduced to control the Covid-19 pandemic.
The NSW BOCSAR examined changes in crime over 6 weeks from mid-March 2020; the time that social distancing measures commenced in NSW. The BOCSAR compared the level of crime recorded by police in this 6-week period with the expected level based on data from previous years.
Their study found large decreases in many crime categories, during this period, including:
- Robbery – down 42%
- Non-domestic assault – down 39%
- Sexual offences – down 32%
- Break and enter-dwelling – down 29%
- Break and enter – non-dwelling – down 25%
- Steal from motor vehicle – down 34%
- Car theft – down 24%
- Shoplifting – down 55%
Other crimes, such as domestic violence assault and certain drug offences have remained stable.
Commenting on these findings, BOCSAR Director, Jackie Fitzgerald, noted that in many ways it is not surprising that the huge social upheaval caused by the lockdown also interrupted criminal activity – “It also seems likely that, as restrictions are relaxed and NSW residents resume regular activities, crime rates will return to normal levels.”
It remains to be seen what impact the recently eased stay at home orders will have on incidents of crime. Though, the Executive Director of BOCSAR, Jackie Fitzgerald, indicated that it is to be expected that crime trends will significantly be impacted by the recent Covid-19 lockdown.