Chair: Professor Martin Gill

Professor Vania Ceccato (Sweden)
Professor Rob Mawby (UK)
Professor Marcus Felson (US)

Key insights from the Webinar

Covid-19 has emerged and impacted dramatically and quickly. There will inevitably be an impact on crime patterns but there are no victim surveys and police statistics tell us very little. In the absence of hard evidence – it is too soon for that – theorising, hypothesizing, speculating become important. In this webinar, three of the world’s leading criminologists discuss their views based on what they have seen so far.

To set the scene, a joint statement from the UK and US* published yesterday has put us on our guard. It notes that:

  • In the UK, there have been more UK government branded scams relating to COVID-19 than any other subject
  • Both countries are seeing a growing use of COVID-19 related themes by cyber offenders
  • Cyber criminals are targeting individuals and organisations of all sizes with COVID-19 related scams and phishing emails using the subject of coronavirus or COVID-19 as a lure
  • The move to remote working is facilitating the opportunity for offenders to exploit known vulnerabilities in VPNs and other remote working tools and software.

*COVID-19 exploited by malicious cyber actors. A joint advisory from the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). 8th April 2020

But what about other offences? Vania Ceccato noted that more people are staying at home, the streets are empty, the emphasis between crime in public and private places has shifted. She noted that many offenders are risk takers, expect them to adapt. Her own work on abuse in Sweden highlighted a worrying concern that abuse may not be reported, and maybe changing, involving mothers and sons for example.

Watching the webinar you will see and hear Rob Mawby discussing possible changes, what he refers to as different types of displacement. So a potential shift from residential to commercial burglary (at least those premises that are no longer occupied); from physical to on line; involving different techniques and here mentions the possible rise in distraction burglary for example as the vulnerable are conned into allowing offenders masquerading as officials checking say a house is virus free; from workplace but not just to homes, perhaps between neighbors over noise or say concerns about not following lockdown rules.

You will then see Marcus Felson disagree and pose an alternative view. Public order may take different forms. We are already seeing incivilities against shop workers and even health workers, the police may face more problems, not least over time as they enforce lockdown requirements. Medical supplies will be a target. Adding more depth to the vulnerability of commercial targets he notes that in cities or places of high density the availability of targets, and the fact that they can be easily reached by offenders, renders them especially vulnerable.

The tasks of crime prevention and security are difficult, and will likely become more so as the economy worsens and people become more stressed and desperate. You will hear on the webinar calls for the need for flexibility – offenders have that in abundance. You can also follow an interesting discussion on the likely influence of alcohol on crime; how drug trafficking will be affected (as Rob Mawby says people can still buy drugs when exercising for example); what we may expect to happen to rape offences; and more besides.

We need to monitor the crime statistics carefully and our criminologists will do so. Research is happening but it takes time. What is clear is the meanwhile people are being victimised, and highlighting trends ensures as far as possible they don’t become forgotten. Crime prevention and security are stepping up, in many ways there has never been an more important time for that.

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