Crime and COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has, and is continuing to, affect the whole world with over 4.4 million cases recorded in over 180 countries. The UK is no exception, with control measures such as social distancing and lockdown measures being implemented. As a result of these new measures, various areas of society have been affected, including crime. There have been some positive impacts, for example newspapers have suggested that since the pandemic crime has dropped by as much as 20% in some areas of the UK.
However, there have always - as is the case with any crisis - been those looking to exploit the situation and the vulnerable, with cases of cybercrime, domestic violence, fraud and counterfeiting having risen significantly (Source: Europol: Pandemic Profiteering Report).
What might all this mean for the future of crime? Has the nature of crime fundamentally changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and how will it continue to change as lockdown measures are eased?
At the peak of the pandemic
Whilst the population is facing a significant threat to life, criminals are seeing this as a new opportunity. Quickly adapting to a massive shift in societal habits and the new environment we find ourselves living in, they are finding ever more sophisticated ways to exploit the anxieties, demands and societal structures caused by the pandemic.
The following image outlines some of the new criminal trends and techniques which have been exacerbated as a result of the global pandemic.
As pandemic measures begin to relax, crime will continue to evolve and adapt. Disrupted crimes will begin to kick-off again, such as the illegal movement of people and drugs across borders, burglaries, and drink-driving offences. However, it is likely that some trends will continue. Law Enforcement are having to deal with a new landscape and new priorities, allowing cybercriminals especially to exploit this and the general increase in online activity.
Long-term changes are likely to fall out of our current climate, like more remote working and a subsequent increase in the use of online chat and video calling applications. Therefore, a higher prevalence of cybercrime is likely to remain in the future.
Trends that may get worse
Easing restrictions could also see some crime trends worsen. This is likely to be the case for many trends. Let's explore two possible outcomes through a behavioural science lens:
1. An increase in anti-social behaviour
The pandemic measures have led to boredom and a loss of freedom in a considerable amount of the population. As lockdown persists, frustration stemming from these factors will grow and could, in some cases, develop into aggression (frustration-aggression theory) and hence anti-social behaviour. It is possible this is already one of the contributing factors to the spike in domestic violence, so there is no reason why this will not have broader reaching consequences as we integrate back into ‘normal’ day-to-day living.
2. An increase in racially-driven hate crimes
In previous epidemics like SARS in 2003, a surge in racially-driven hate crimes occurred. Newspapers are already reporting increases in hate crimes directed at the Asian community. As lockdown eases, this may increase as people begin to socially interact again and pandemic-related frustrations intensify.
Pandemics, and crises in general, lead some to look for scapegoats in terms of people, places or institutions to blame. In some instances, this could result in the Asian community being stereotyped and falling victim of xenophobic sentiment. Stereotyping in this case falls down to the out-group homogeneity bias. It is the perception that members of an ‘out-group’ are more similar to each other, whereas members of an ‘in-group’ are diverse and individualistic. Grouping an ‘out-group’ community together encourages stereotyping, and when coupled with frustration or a need to attribute blame, could lead to racially-driven hate crimes.
As the pandemic endures, criminals will continue to seek new opportunities to exploit and will adopt the relevant tradecraft to do so. However, we can also expect some current crime trends to develop and worsen as tensions continue to run high.
Law Enforcement have responded quickly to the evolving nature of the pandemic and the changes in criminal behaviour. The use of data-driven insight combined with a human science perspective will help them to prioritise resources at a challenging time.