Urban crime decreased by 80% in Barcelona during lockdown

The lockdown policies that resulted from the COVID-19 epidemic involved an important decrease in urban crimes, except for homicides, according to a paper published in the journalNature Human Behaviour, which counts on the participation of the lecturer Noemí Pereda, director of the Research Group on Children and Adolescent Victimization (GReVIA) of the Institute of Neurosciendes of the UB. The study compared the effects of these policies in crime levels in 26 cities from 23 counties, using data gathered by the police on six kinds of crimes: assault (without intrafamily violence), robbery, burglary, thefts, vehicle theft, and homicide. The results show that Barcelona, the only Spanish city included in the study, is one of the places where crimes were reduced the most, decreasing by 80% during lockdown, together with Lima (Peru) and Mendoza (Argentina).

This descriptive study was led by the Institute of Criminology of Cambridge and Utrecht University, and counted on the participation of 26 research institutions from different countries. The study is also signed by Raül Aguilar, member of the Policia de la Generalitat – Mossos d’Esquadra (autonomous police force of the Catalan Government), doctor in Law and Society, psychologist and criminologist, who has given technical advice in the Barcelona data analysis.

The impact of a strict home confinement

The researchers analysed data on the registered crimes from early 2018 to May 15, 2020. These include the beginning of the restrictive measures taken in different countries to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “Our findings show that the lockdown policies were associated with a notable decrease in urban crimes, but with substantial variations between cities and types of crimes. The meta-aggression results showed that the most severe restrictions regarding movement in the public areas predict a larger reduction of urban crimes”, notes Noemí Pereda, also lecturer at the Faculty of Psychology and researcher at the Institute of Neurosciences of the UB (UBNeuro).

In this sense, the researchers stress that the strict home confinement measures, such as those applied in Spain (curfew, fines and arrests), are linked to a more stressed decrease in crimes. “However, the most severe restrictions in school closures, teleworking, banning private gatherings, or internal mobility, for instance, do not seem to be related to a major decrease in urban crimes”, notes the researcher. An average 37 percent reduction of global crimes

The quick decline of urban activity in all cities had comparable effects to similar categories of crimes, despite the variation in size, geography and social structure. In average, there was a global crime reduction of 37 percent in the analysed cities. With the most important reduction in theft (-47%), and robberies (46%), followed by vehicle thefts (-39%), assaults (-35%), burglary (-28%) and homicides. According to the authors, the most important effects are seen in those crimes that involve the convergence of criminals and victims in the public space, probably because “the chances of committing crimes were reduced, and there were fewer potential victims who spent time in areas such as the city centre, where there are many businesses and leisure areas”.

However, homicides, which show a less stressed decrease, would respond to other patterns. “In many societies, a substantial proportion of homicides occur in domestic contexts, and therefore, these are not affected by mobility reductions. Also, a variable proportion of homicides is associated with organized crime, conflicts between gangs or conflicts related to drug trafficking, which would be less influenced by changes in daily routines”, note the researchers.

The exceptions were the results of three analysed cities (Cali, Lima, Rio de Janeiro) where there are many homicides committed by gangs. These crimes were substantially reduced in these cities during lockdown. “An explanation could be that crime gangs used the crisis to strengthen their control of the territory by stating their own curfew and limiting movements in the areas they control”, the authors say.

The lowest point of crime levels took place between the two and five weeks after the beginning of confinement measures and it went back to a regular level during the following weeks.

Barcelona, from an average of 385 daily thefts to only 38

Barcelona is one of the cities where the effects of lockdown had a major impact on crimes, especially on thefts, which went from an average of 385 to 38 per day during lockdown. This decrease was seen in the other crimes too, except for homicides, which remained the same: robberies (from 39.5 daily to 8.6), burglary (from 31.2 daily to 14.6), vehicle thefts (from 12.9 daily to 2), assaults (from 34.6 daily to 14.6). “Based on the amount of reports, Barcelona is not a city with high levels of crime, specially severe crimes. Confinement reduced urban crimes significantly, but for instance, when it comes to assaults, these crimes have not been that much affected, and the same happens with homicides, because these are probably linked to highly criminal contexts or hotspots that have not been influenced by confinement, such as common crimes”, notes Noemí Pereda.

Moreover, according to the researcher, these results in Barcelona would be “comparable to other Spanish cities, since the situation has been similar and the measures have been alike”.

The study of intrafamily violence

This study is still being conducted, since the researchers are currently analysing data from crimes that were recorded until May 2021. Also, they are also working on the impact lockdown had on other crimes. “Now, the most relevant analysis is to see whether this reduction in crimes happens in intrafamily violence and those crimes that can happen in the house, such as violence against children, sexual abuse and domestic violence, which were not included in this study”, concludes the researcher.