Chair: Martin Gill

Greg Breetzke – Professor at University of Pretoria (South Africa)
Nick Tilley – Professor at UCL (UK)
Andy Newton – Professor at Nottingham Trent University (UK)

Key points

Andy Newton notes that there are major lessons to be learnt from the pandemic experience and he focusses on a topic that becomes a significant reference point in this webinar, the importance of opportunity. It is changes in opportunities that the pandemic has generated as a result of the ways in which offenders and victims merge. Noting that there has been a reported 37% reduction in crime he discusses how there have been wide variations a ross areas and crime types and this prompts an emphasis on spaces. For example, the reduction of the night-time economy has clearly been significant in reducing crime in this area; opportunities have been reduced. Andy leads an interesting discussion about the impact of the pandemic on recorded crime where you will hear him commenting on police resources, support mechanisms, fines for anti-social behaviour and victim surveys. If there is one positive aspect to the pandemic it is that organisations have been forced to share data after a time when austerity had bred a silo mentality.

Greg Breetzke notes the unusual situation in South Africa where crime is always high. The pandemic has seen a reduction in the overall number of offences but it varies by type. Property offences have been reduced but murder rates are higher than ever. Taking one example of a precinct, he notes how even these can vary greatly in their crime experience; it is vital to understand context. In some ways the pandemic worked to some offenders’ interests in that they were more confident that they would not be interrupted. The authorities did not help themselves, an alcohol and tobacco ban led to a raging illicit trade. A key context in South Africa is the considerable lack of trust in the police, who in turn have had to work with less resources. More significantly there are structural inequalities and so high crime has an inevitability about it.

Nick Tilley notes an interesting study he is engaged with comparing observed verses expected crime patterns, via this and a series he has led with colleagues on Covid-19 and crime ( he too draws attention to the central importance of understanding opportunities. He provides interesting examples. For example, falls in crime were noted when: the closure of shops meant theft went down; working from home meant that there were less daytime forced entry burglaries; less commuters and therefore cars parked at rail stations meant less car theft there (although not less crime on other parts of the railway network). Rises were in crime were seen for example: when fake medical products become more common as more medical products were purchased (with greater speed and often less due diligence); more fraud as more business loans were made available (with greater speed and often less due diligence); romance scams increased as fraudsters could more easily and convincingly argue that they could not meet up and that they were in desperate need. There is a need to intensify security when changes occur. What happens in the future will depend on the extent to which old opportunities are allowed to reappear.

This webinar highlights how criminologists have a big role to play in helping to provide a better security response. Part of the difficulty is that every person is a criminologist in having a view on crime; criminologists need to differentiate themselves.  What they can do – and few other groups can – is speak from an evidence base and in so doing discern the real emerging threats and crime prevention opportunities. This is always tricky and requires great skill and a wide knowledge base. But to maximise their influence they must also find better ways of communicating what they find; our panellists provide a good reference point for how this might be achieved.

Martin Gill
29th June 2021