Monitoring the impact of economic crisis on crime.

Abstract

This project was conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).The aims of the project were twofold:

  • To identify and raise awareness at global, regional and national level of the possible effects of economic stress on crime; and
  • To work towards a predictive capacity for such effects at country level.

The report described analysis undertaken on high frequency (monthly) police data for intentional homicide, robbery and motor vehicle theft, in 15 countries - Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Italy, Jamaica, Latvia, Mauritius, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay - and 4 cities, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro.

Key findings:

  • Whether in times of economic crisis or non-crisis, economic factors may play an important role in the evolution of crime trends. Out of fifteen countries examined in total, a statistical model identified an economic predictor for at least one crime type in twelve countries, suggesting some overall association between economic changes and crime in these countries.
  • Of the fifteen countries included in the analysis, visualization of data suggests that eleven countries showed significant changes in economic indictors during the period 2008/2009 that may tentatively be termed economic 'crisis'. Both visual inspection of data series and statistical modelling suggest that in eight of these eleven 'crisis' countries, changes in economic factors were associated with changes in crime, leading to identifiable increases in at least one crime type during the period of crisis.
  • Violent property crime types such as robbery appeared most affected during times of crisis, with up to two-fold increases in some contexts during a period of economic stress. However, in some contexts, increases in homicide and motor vehicle theft were also observed. In no case where it was difficult to discern an increase in crime in response to crime was any decrease in crime observed. The available data do not therefore support a hypothesis that economic crisis can lead to crime downturns.
  • Where an association between one or more economic variables is identified by statistical modelling, the model frequently indicates a lag time between changes in the economic variable and resultant impact on crime levels. The average lag time in the contexts examined was around four and half months.
  • Statistical modelling at the national and city level proved useful for the generation of forecasts in crime trends up to around 3 months in advance, using information from the previous crime trend and changes in economic variables. The accuracy of forecasts in many cases was suitable for use in practice.

Citation

Malby, S.; Davis, P. Monitoring the impact of economic crisis on crime. Global Pulse, New York, USA (2011) 70 pp.

Monitoring the impact of economic crisis on crime.

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