COVID Reported Crime Analysis [Part 1] Seattle

Overall crime down. Downtown is actually a lot safer.

In response to the recent news, I want to do a series of data analysis on the crime rate changes in the U.S. during COVID (focusing on NYC and Seattle where I spent time during the pandemic) [1]. I hope to first establish the overall picture of crime rate changes during COVID, and then if we somehow manage to find better data [2], track hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islander communities.

(Feel free to reach out if you spot any bug in my code/analysis or have thoughts for gathering more accurate hate crime data.)

TL;DR

In Seattle area:

  1. Overall crime reduced by 8.5% YoY for 2020 (22.25K v.s. 24.31K in 2019). Crime against society (e.g., gambling, prostitution, and drug violations) had the biggest decline (-37.4%); followed by crime against person (-9.2%). Crime against property (e.g., robbery, bribery, and burglary) had the least reduction (-3.2%).

  2. Crime rates are hyper-local: it appears that crime rates in residential neighborhoods are more stable (e.g., Queen Anne); while more commercial areas see bigger changes (e.g, downtown, Capitol Hill).

  3. Media focuses on reporting increase in homicides (e.g., Massive 1-Year Rise In Homicide Rates Collided With The Pandemic In 2020). While homicides are horrifying, they are rare compared to “petty crimes” such as Burglary/Breaking & Entering, Theft From Motor Vehicle, Destruction/Damage/Vandalism of Property.

Analysis

Overall Crime

Data Source: SPD Crime Data: 2008-Present [3].

Each crime is categorized by into crime against “person”, “property”, and “society”. See details here.

“Crimes Against Persons, e.g., murder, rape, and assault, are those whose victims are always individuals. The object of Crimes Against Property, e.g., robbery, bribery, and burglary, is to obtain money, property, or some other benefit. Crimes Against Society, e.g., gambling, prostitution, and drug violations, represent society’s prohibition against engaging in certain types of activity; they are typically victimless crimes in which property is not the object. ”

Below is the tracking of crime since 2008 by crime against category for the overall Seattle area. Crime against property, person and society actually all dropped in 2020 in Seattle.

Zooming in on 2019-2021. Overall crime reduced by 8.5% YoY for 2020 (22.25K v.s. 24.31K in 2019). Crime against society had the biggest decline (-37.4%); followed by crime against person (-9.2%). Crime against property had the least reduction (-3.2%).

When we plot the YoY change per month, specific events can be mapped onto the month. For example, crime against society clearly began to drop in March 2020 when the lockdown started. This trend is consistent with other studies such as “In Chicago drug arrests fell 42% since the lockdowns, compared with the same period in 2019” [4].

Hyper-Local

The impact of COVID on crime rate is also hyper-local — meaning that different neighborhoods have different patterns. Below are crime rate count for a few neighborhoods in Seattle.

Commercial neighborhoods such as downtown and Capitol Hill see more changes (not necessarily in the same direction); while residential neighborhoods such as Queen Anne seem to be more stable.

For example, Capitol Hill saw overall reduction of crime by 1% in 2020 (crime against property +10%, person ~0%, society -40%). There are spikes in June for crime against person and property mapping to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest time window (Jun 8, 2020 - Jul 1, 2020), and again in Sep and Oct 2020. But since things have quiet down.

The neighborhood saw biggest change is downtown commercial area. In 2019, downtown commercial area had the highest crime rate, followed by Capitol Hill, Northgate, and Queen Anne. In 2020, the ranking flipped to Capitol Hill > Downtown Commercial > Queen Anne > Northgate.

There is an overall 37% reduction in crime in downtown in 2020 YoY across all three categories (-39% against property; -26% against person; and -43% against society). The simple explanation seems to be that there is just no one there. Specific offenses that had a big decrease include: Theft From Motor Vehicle (-64%); Shoplifting (-60%)'; Trespass of Real Property (-50%).

In comparison, for the more residential neighborhood Queen Anne, there is a slight uptick in overall crime YoY by 3.7%, with increase in crime against property +5.6% and person +3%, and decrease in against society (-12.6%). The highest increase for crime against property comes from Theft of Motor Vehicle Parts or Accessories (+243%), Robbery (+46%), and Burglary/Breaking & Entering (+45%).

References

  1. Data and code available at github.com/infoxiao/crime.

  2. https://stopaapihate.org/

  3. There is a data anomaly in the crime dataset that had a spike in Fraud Offenses in May 2020. I have excluded it from the analysis.

  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_of_the_COVID-19_pandemic_on_crime

  5. https://cdn.ymaws.com/counciloncj.org/resource/resmgr/covid_commission/Year_End_Crime_Update_Design.pdf

  6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/local/public-safety/crime-rate-coronavirus/

  7. Massive 1-Year Rise In Homicide Rates Collided With The Pandemic In 2020

  8. How a pandemic and social unrest possibly drove up Seattle homicides in 2020

  9. Changed title from “Crime Analysis” to “Reported Crime Analysis” per suggestion by @heycori and reddit users.