COVID and Crime: An Early Empirical Look

48 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2020 Last revised: 31 Aug 2020

See all articles by David Abrams

David Abrams

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: August 28, 2020


Data from 25 large U.S. cities is assembled to estimate the impact of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic on crime. There is a widespread immediate drop in both criminal incidents and arrests most heavily pronounced among drug crimes, theft, residential burglaries, and most violent crimes. The decline appears to precede most stay-at-home orders, and arrests follow a similar pattern as reports. There is no decline in homicides and shootings, and an increase in non-residential burglary and car theft in most cities, suggesting that criminal activity was displaced to locations with fewer people. Pittsburgh, New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Chicago each saw overall crime drops of over 35%. There was a drop in police stops and a rise in Black detainee share in Philadelphia, which likely reflects the racial composition of essential workers. Evidence on police-initiated reports and geographic variation in crime change suggests that most of the observed changes are not due to changes in crime reporting.

Keywords: Pandemic, criminal, homicide, shootings, robbery, burglary, violent crime, property crime, policing, COVID-19, empirical, race, law and economics, difference-in-difference, public safety, coronavirus

JEL Classification: H76, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Abrams, David S., COVID and Crime: An Early Empirical Look (August 28, 2020). U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 20-49, Available at SSRN: or

David S. Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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