Reducing the unanticipated crime harms of COVID-19 policies

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Leeds

In Collaboration With

Partners: Home Office, National Police Chiefs' Council, College of Policing, Durham Constabulary, Lancashire Constabulary, Metropolitan Police Service

Principal Researcher

Professor Graham Farrell

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

June 2020

Research Context


Additional investigators involved in this study include:

  • Professor Shane Johnson; Professor Kate Bowers; Professor Nick Tilley - Department of Security and Crime Science, University College London ​ 

  • Professor Nicolas Malleson - School of Geography, University of Leeds

  • Dr Dan Birks - School of Law, University of Leeds


The COVID-19 crisis is changing the shape of crime. Drawing on crime science, this research will inform evidence-based policy and practice.

Lockdown requires people to stay home, leading to domestic violence and child abuse increases. Yet social distancing means police are arresting fewer suspects: reduced services at time of greater need. COVID-19 gives fraudsters a ‘conversation starter’ to approach people in-person, via text, email and online. Remote working and online leisure activities, furloughs and financial difficulties, provide more potential targets for online crimes of various types. Vulnerable groups including the elderly and disabled are more at risk.

Yet a Harvard study (Kissler et al. Science, 14 April) suggests that, absent a vaccine, social distancing may continue into 2022, perhaps 2024. So we will anticipate crime effects of prolonged, graduated or cyclical exit strategies.

We will also anticipate post-crisis scenarios, seeking to sustain declines in crimes like burglary, to avoid them returning to ‘normal’.

We will use (1) national police data, (2) detailed data from three police partners, (3) fraud and e-crime data from industry, and (4) sources from other agencies where available such as children's agencies (for unreported crime). Pre/post-change analysis will use a combination of time-series and spatial modelling. Nesting force-level analysis in the national and international context will allow us to gauge scalability.

We have police and industry partners, national (Home office, National Police Chief's Council, College of Policing) and international advisors. The aim is to inform policy and practice, producing deliverables including policy and practice briefings and research articles.

Research Methodology

We will address three time horizons. First, and most pressing, we will address short-term harms, such as those relating to increased domestic violence but reduced police arrest capacity. Second, we will address medium-term harms by anticipating the effects of different crisis lengths and exit strategies: a Harvard study (Kissler et al., Science, 14 April) suggests that, absent a vaccine, social distancing may continue to 2022 or perhaps 2024. We will explore the potential effects on crime and how to anticipate and mitigate prolonged COVID-19 scenarios and various exit strategies (such as graduated and/or cyclical exit strategies) Third, we will explore what will happen to crime ‘post-crisis’. This matters because some crimes, such as burglary and personal theft, are declining: We will explore possibilities for sustaining these inadvertent social gains. We will explore whether such crimes may otherwise revert to ‘normal’ levels or increase as offenders 'make up for lost crime'.

Work Packages:
WP1: Statistical Analysis of Crime Patterns and Changes.
WP2: Lifestyles and ambient population.
WP3: National and International Advisory Team Work on Best Practice Sharing.
WP4: Fraud, E-crime and Crime Futures.
WP5: Simulation Modelling.
WP6: Continual Improvement and Identification of Future Needs

Interim reports and publications


Halford, E., A. Dixon, G. Farrell, N. Malleson, N. Tilley. 2020 in press. Coronavirus and crime: Social distancing, lockdown and the mobility elasticity of crime’ Crime Science (pre-print at )

Farrell, G. and D. Birks. 2020. Crime after lockdown: Anticipating the effects of exit strategies, UCL Jill Dando Institute COVID-19 Special Papers series #19. London: University College London. 

Farrell, G. and N. Tilley. 2020. Coronavirus: How crime changes during a lockdown. The Conversation, 02 April.

Date due for completion

December 2021
Return to Research Map