Title Crime Rates in a Pandemic: the Largest Criminological Experiment in History      
Author Ben Stickle, Marcus Felson
Date 2020-07-01 Hit 185

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Title: Crime Rates in a Pandemic: the Largest Criminological Experiment in History


Authors: Ben Stickle, Marcus Felson

Date: 16 June 2020

Journal: American Journal of Criminal Justice


The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has impacted the world in ways not seen in generations. Initial evidence suggests one of the effects is crime rates, which appear to have fallen drastically in many communities around the world. We argue that the principal reason for the change is the government ordered stay-at-home orders, which impacted the routine activities of entire populations. Because these orders impacted countries, states, and communities at different times and in different ways, a naturally occurring, quasi-randomized control experiment has unfolded, allowing the testing of criminological theories as never before. Using new and traditional data sources made available as a result of the pandemic criminologists are equipped to study crime in society as never before. We encourage researchers to study specific types of crime, in a temporal fashion (following the stay-at-home orders), and placed-based. The results will reveal not only why, where, when, and to what extent crime changed, but also how to influence future crime reduction.


The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 is unquestionably one of the most significant world-wide events in recent history, impacting culture, government operations, crime, economics, politics, and social interactions for the foreseeable future. One unique aspect of this crisis is the governmental response of issuing legal stay-at-home orders to attempt to slow the spread of the virus. While these orders varied, both in degree and timing, between countries and states, they generally began with strong encouragement for persons to isolate themselves voluntarily. As the magnitude of the crisis grew, governments began legally mandating persons to stay-at-home to reduce the transmission rate of the virus. There were, of course, exceptions; workers who were deemed ‘essential,’ such as those in the fields of medicine, finance, public safety, food production, transportation, and in other miscellaneous industries did not have to abide by these orders to the degree to which the general public did.


Nevertheless, practically overnight, the entire country ceased or significantly reduced day-to-day travels, eliminating commutes from home to work, as well as leisure activities, shopping trips, social gatherings, the ability to dine out, and more. One poll in late March found that 90% of Americans, including essential workers, were ‘staying at home as much as possible’ (Washington Post-ABC, 2020). The ‘stay-at-home’ mandates brought about the most wide-reaching, significant, and sudden alteration of the lives of billions of people in human history. Across the United States and around the world, a positive byproduct (Fattah, 2020) of these unprecedented events is a dramatic drop in crime rates..


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