Crime levels plummeted when New Zealand went into Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown last year and many offences remained at lower-than-usual rates by the end of 2020.
The number of victims recorded by police was 28,342 in January, 2020 — the highest since the data set began in mid 2014. But that plunged to 12,323 during lockdown in April — the lowest on record.
“We’ve never seen crime drop like that, ever — not even in world wars. It was incredible. It was a real eye-opener,” said Inspector Brent Register, the police prevention manager in charge of community focus.
And Register said we still had not gone back to “normal New Zealand yet”.
“You’ve only got to walk downtown and there are fewer people. We haven’t gone back to pre-Covid … New Zealand.”
One year ago today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the nation would be put into level 4 lockdown as the global coronavirus took hold.
Kiwis were told to stay at home in their bubbles to fight the virus and prevent thousands of New Zealanders dying.
The most recent police statistics reflect the ongoing Covid effect on crime. In December, 24,057 victims were recorded — 3300 fewer than the previous December.
Crime, as measured by the number of victims, was down 6.5 per cent across the year.
While all crime types dropped off in April, it was the continued reduction in burglaries which was keeping levels low, Register said.
“The difference there is we’re still seeing a lot of people working from home,” Register said.
That meant fewer opportunities for burglars because homes were now often occupied during work hours when they were usually easy targets.
In December 2019, 6240 burglaries were reported across the country. In April last year that plunged to 3832 before rising to 4999 by the end of the year.
Before Covid-19, burglaries had not been that low since September 2015.
By December, abduction and kidnapping; robbery and extortion; and theft also remained lower than at the same time the year before, while the number of assaults and sexual assaults rose compared with 2019.
Register said a sudden increase in crime at the end of lockdown was expected.
He said assaults rose again quickly because people were suddenly allowed to go back to pubs and clubs, while theft of both property and cars jumped because people were allowed out and shops were open again.
What the data does not break out is domestic violence, which some commentators expected would rise during lockdowns when families were forced together for an extended and stressful period.
Dr Jarrod Gilbert, the director of crime and justice studies at the University of Canterbury, said the data would be studied for years.
“What this data just shows us is opportunities and behaviours change dramatically under different circumstances so there’s some interesting lessons to learn,” he said. “When you remove opportunity that has significant consequences.”
Gilbert said the drop in crime during level 4 lockdown was to be expected.
“When everyone was locked down, people going about illegal activities were far more conspicuous because there was so much less traffic on the road that it meant that you were easily able to be identified.”
People being at home all day made it harder for burglars, although it was possible businesses became more of a target, Gilbert said.
He also expected there may have been a drop in drug dealing because of breaks in the supply line caused by border closures. Drug offences are not recorded in the victimisation data because it is regarded as having “no direct victim”.
As for the rapid rise in assaults, which was up 12.7 per cent last year to the highest level recorded in the data set, Gilbert suggested that could be a result of lockdown.
“For general assaults, often that’s happening around alcohol in public places so often that drops away as well [during lockdown],” he said.
“People go back to old habits with greater enthusiasm perhaps. People like to go out and get carried away once lockdown breaks.”
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