By Jalaj Tokas

Published On: September 28, 2021 at 15:29 IST


The COVID-19 Pandemic undoubtedly is 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. The pandemic radically changed the nature of social interaction and economic activity in all regions across the world.

It is estimated that by the first week of April 2020, 3.9 billion people – more than half of the global population – were under some form of lockdown. In the months that followed, various countries enforced a broad spectrum of restrictions, adjusting and re-adjusting their response in accordance with the course of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted the world in ways that have not been seen even in generations. Initial evidence suggests that these ongoing changes are affecting all aspects of life, with crime being no exception to it. These challenging times have impacted countries, states, and communities at different times and in different ways, which has resulted in unfolding a naturally occurring, quasi-randomized control experiment, allowing testing of criminological theories as never done before.

Using new and traditional data sources, made available as a result of the pandemic, criminologists are equipped to study crime in society from a new perspective. The results will reveal not only why, where, when, and to what extent crime changed, but will also reveal as to how it may play an effective role in influencing future crime reduction.

Why is the evaluation important?

Evaluating the impact of the pandemic on crime in a rigorous manner can assess the potential for significant changes in crime-derived mortality. It is often observed that criminologists tend to over-generalize about crime while underestimating the enormous specificity in offender decision making.However, even within each crime type, the finer particulars of an offense should be studied to understand how crime patterns change and shift.

Specificity is even more critical when researching crime in a pandemic as it allows for an understanding of nuanced changes, such as opportunity structure, that would otherwise be missed.

Are Crime Rates Trustworthy?

Crime Rates are a quantitative indication of the various misdeeds committed against the society over a period of time. They help us understand, analyze and apply our strategies effectively to control and prevent crimes to an extent. However, crime rates do not represent the entire picture. Therefore, making their interpretation even more valued.

I therefore lay the facts and analysis straight and leave it to my sagacious readers to form their own understanding of the concept.

Even if we had perfect measurements of crime rates, we’d still need to sort correlation from causation. Criminologists sometimes describe crime as a “chaotic system”, caused by countless factors contributing to it. Criminologists may disagree on questions of causality, but they agree that outsiders underestimate the complexity of criminology.

“Perhaps, whenever someone offers up an especially compelling explanation for a rise or fall in crime, we should be wary. We might recognize that criminology is also slow and confounding, with answers that may come decades late or not at all. The moral and social complexity of crime makes simple accounts of it all the more appealing. In hearing an explanation for its rise or fall, we might ask: What kind of story is its bearer trying to tell?”[i]

Comparing Crime Rates: Before and During the Pandemic

A study conducted on the effects of unemployment on criminal motivation and opportunities between 1978 – 2005 in 400 of the largest counties in the United States, showed a consistent relation between unemployment rates and property crimes of burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.[ii]

Despite of this, a total of 1,05,676 crimes were registered till the 31st of May 2021 which was 14.61% less than the total crimes for the same period in 2019.[iii] Similarly in India, the lack of jobs has pushed many people into criminal activities as unemployment rates have grown exponentially from 7 percent before the lockdown to a peak of 27.11% in April 2020.[iv]

Crime, being a comprehensive concept, can’t be restricted to and be viewed in totality for certain specific crimes. Each crime is peculiar in its own way and therefore it becomes easier to understand its facets, if studied separately.  

  • Violation of COVID Norms

Recorded crimes in India increased by 28% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). This was primarily due to cases registered for flouting COVID-19-related lockdown norms.[v]

  • Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is deep-rooted in India and its ubiquity was highlighted prominently during the COVID-19 Pandemic. There is preliminary evidence to conclude that domestic violence during the COVID-19 increased globally.

Studies related to domestic violence in India are well documented. National Commission for Women’s (NCW) data shows that domestic violence complaints doubled after the nationwide lockdown was imposed in India. However, on the contrary some organizations reported a significant decrease in complaint calls related to domestic violence.

However, the decrease could be attributed to factors like confinement at home, constant monitoring and controlling decision-making by the abuser, social isolation of victims from friends and family members, and reduced options for support.

  • Heinous Crimes

However, violent and severe crimes such as rape, kidnapping and crimes against children declined. The police’s charge sheeting rate and courts’ conviction rate of cases also improved, possibly due to a drop in new cases.

Homicide underwent a short-term decline of around 25 per cent in some countries. In others, there was no visible change or the variability in the number of homicide victims remained within its pre-pandemic range. In another report, there were 20,231 fewer cases of kidnapping in 2020 in comparison to 2019.[vi]

  • Other Cognizable Offences

Reported robbery, theft and burglary declined significantly, falling by more than 50 per cent in most countries. It is noteworthy that the decrease was more imminent in countries with stricter lockdown regimes. It is likely that this decline was not only the result of a decrease in the number of crimes committed but also in their reporting.

The impact varied across countries and type of crime. Any significant changes were short-lived and pre-pandemic dynamics soon returned.

Crime Rates Post Pandemic

It is not a mystery that the loss of economic activity due to prolonged lockdowns is leading to unemployment and poverty. There have been massive lay offs by the major companies, small businesses and factories are being shut down leading to large scale displacement of workers. Factors like greater income inequality, poverty and job displacement drive offenders to commit crimes in order to sustain themselves in this competing world.

Looking at this information, various criminologists predicted that not only would violent crime rates rebound but would actually continue to rise for the remaining part of the year. It is widely believed that the dip was temporary and that the continued pandemic would eventually play a part in the flourishing rates of violent crime in three distinct ways.

  • Public institutions and law enforcement agencies would become overwhelmed by the pandemic and see their budgets cut during the economic crisis which would eventually add to their burden.
  • Social distancing requirements would thwart intervention and outreach programs that target people most at risk of being a victim or perpetrator of a violent crime.
  • As mentioned earlier, the continuing economic downturn would lead people to engage in criminal activity out of financial desperation.

The Way Forward

Given the urgency of the matter in hands, it becomes absolutely necessary on the part of policymakers to take quick, robust action to help lower various crime rates and offer key policy recommendations for the same.

Urgent calls have to be made to local governments to restart proactive violence reduction programs that may have been slowed or halted as part of COVID-19 precautions. The pandemic has limited efforts to conduct outreach to individuals vulnerable to violence involvement, which is a key component of evidence-based violence-reduction efforts.

Meanwhile, legislation can work on removing legal provisions that conceal data on use of force while simultaneously erecting barriers for accountability in law enforcement. These state-level changes represent major shifts in how lawmakers regulate law enforcement agencies, creating the potential for increasing levels of community trust.

The policymakers are posed with the challenge of finding ways to “COVID-proof” well-tested programs. This includes guaranteeing a continued access to vaccines and any required personal protective equipment, along with the necessary health and medical care, to first responders such as police, public health and street outreach workers.

The only foreseeable thing standing in the way is a sense of urgency and action from our nation’s leaders. With the right policies and a sense of urgency from the elected officials, we can thus ensure that this trend of decreasing crime rates continues.


The conclusion that can be drawn based on the above results is that the rate and crime pattern have been considerably affected by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the effect has more to do with the consequences that resulted in changes in the social and economic environment than precisely the pandemic itself.

A return to normalcy, a new normal, means the systems that were recently able to keep violent crime under control can once again be brought back to full strength.

The insights provided by the national and regional data indicate the unprecedented changes related to the pandemic, which differ by type of crime and the country or region under scanner from time to time. Given the paucity of the data and the heterogeneity of the emerging dynamics, this brief is focused on illustrative country and regional examples without drawing conclusions on the global impact of COVID-19 measures on the crimes in question. The resulting observations can serve as a starting point for further data analyses and for informing program delivery in the field of crime prevention.

[i] Matthew Hutson, “The Trouble with Crime Statistics”, The New Yorker, January 9, 2020, (last visited on September 19, 2021). 

[ii] Suyash Das and Soumya Bhowmick, “Pandemic-induced unemployment in India: Criminal activities on the rise”, (last visited on September 20, 2021).

[iii] National Crime Records Bureau, “Crime in India-2019”, (Ministry of Home Affairs, 2019).

[iv]Suyash Das and Soumya Bhowmick, “Pandemic-induced unemployment in India: Criminal activities on the rise”, (last visited on September 18, 2021).

[v] National Crime Records Bureau, “Crime in India”, (Ministry of Home Affairs, 2020).

[vi] Vignesh Radhakrishnan, Sumant Sen and Jasmin Nihalani, “Serious offences dip in 2020, COVID violations pushes up crime rate”,The Hindu, September 16, 2021, (last visited on September 20, 2021).

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