Rise in crime attributed to COVID-19 insecurity

“We need to provide housing, food, and living wages,” says SFU professor

big apartment in the background with a bicyclist in the foreground
Housing and stability can help reduce crime rates, said Andresen. PHOTO: Lukas Kloeppel / Pexels

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, News Writer

Two researchers have published a study on COVID-19’s impacts on Vancouver crime patterns. According to SFU News, the study’s key findings revealed areas with economic disadvantage experienced an increase in crime during the pandemic. The study is a collaboration between SFU’s School of Criminology Dr. Martin Andresen and professor Tarah Hodgkinson of Wilfrid Laurier University.

The Peak interviewed Andresen to learn more about these findings. 

According to Andresen, the crime pattern changes examined in the study were tested against “levels of social disorganization.” Social disorganization theory points to how areas with less socio-economic standing have weaker public institutions such as schools and community centres, restricting access of residents to things like income and education. These places of gathering, in turn, are “unable to regulate behaviour of the neighbourhood.” 

He explained the significance of the increase in violent crimes in these neighbourhoods. “These areas have been found to be more impacted by COVID-19 (in other studies/news stories) because they have lost more jobs and had more housing instability. Because of this, these areas and their more marginalized populations are being victimized again,” said Andresen. 

He emphasized the need for “social support” such as housing and a living wage for areas that experienced instability during the pandemic. According to Andresen, creating stability for those living in marginalized communities can lead to a decrease in crime. He pointed to Insite, a supervised drug injection site as an example of prevention and harm reduction. 

“Research, in Vancouver, has shown that if we provide drugs to those who use drugs, their criminal activity is reduced by 80–90%. They do not have to steal in order to support their habit. Moreover, this research also found that these populations were more likely to seek out help for reducing drug use. Harm reduction is a great first step.”

When asked to respond to the recent increased police budget in Vancouver, Andresen suggested the increased budget should be allocated elsewhere.

“Increased police budgets have not been shown to have much [of] an impact on crime. Crime is 20–30% of police work and has been falling in Vancouver for 25 years,” said Andresen. “If we are going to invest more money into social services, it should not be more police, but more housing options, social workers, mental health workers, expansions of Insite, and so on.” 

Andresen said he suspects these changes in crime patterns would reflect similarly in other Greater Vancouver cities like Burnaby and Coquitlam, but cannot say for sure without analyzing each city’s data. Andresen said he and Hodgkinson led a similar study in Saskatchewan and found similar results.

Instabilities resulting from poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and drug use are important factors to consider when looking at increased crime rates, according to Andresen. 

This study was published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology and is available for open public access through Springer’s website.