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COVID boosted crime in poor Vancouver areas, cut crime in rich ones


During COVID, disadvantaged inner-city neighbourhoods were harder hit by violent crimes, including assault and robbery.

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Crime statistics across Vancouver barely changed in the first year of COVID-19 but a closer look at individual areas show disadvantaged inner-city neighbourhoods were harder hit by violent crimes during the pandemic, including assault and robbery.

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Meantime, violent crimes, arsons and weapons-related offences, dropped in wealthier neighbourhoods, like Kitsilano, Oakridge and Kerrisdale, but these areas were harder hit by property crimes, such theft, vehicle theft and vehicle break-ins.

The results are reported in a new study on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on neighbourhood level crime.

“It shows there is an increase in violence and of burglary in and around the core areas of this city,” including downtown, Strathcona and Mt. Pleasant, said co-author Martin Andresen, a SFU criminology professor.

“During COVID, crime increased in the poorer areas of the city,” he said. The pandemic had a greater “impact on the marginalized and vulnerable populations.”

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He and co-author, Tarah Hodgkinson, an assistant criminology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, were testing their theory that crime would be affected by the “natural experiment” of COVID-related restrictions. They predicted that socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods would be harder hit by crime.

They compared police crime statistics for 10 crime types against the social and cultural makeup of Vancouver’s 22 official neighbourhoods based on socio-economic factors in Statistics Canada census data.

That included income levels, post-secondary education, average rents, government assistance, residential turnover, the percentages of lone-parent households, immigrants and Aboriginal populations, housing prices, unemployment rates, housing under major repair and new housing.

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The authors explained the inclusion of the percentage of Indigenous and immigrant people to define a neighbourhood’s socio-economic status. “It’s critical to recognize that this … is representative of the well-documented high levels of (child) poverty and structural/institutional inequalities for Indigenous populations.” And they cited an earlier study that found “immigrant criminal activity is a product of the neighbourhoods in which they live.”

A new study led by criminology professor Martin Andresen found COVID treated neighbourhoods unequally when it came to crime.
A new study led by criminology professor Martin Andresen found COVID treated neighbourhoods unequally when it came to crime. Photo by Martin Andresen/Submitted /jpg

The study compared crime between March 2020 and February 2021 against the previous three years by neighbourhood and found only four of the 10 crime types had a statistically significant change citywide — assaults, vehicle theft, vehicle break-ins and weapons offences.

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But a closer look at all crime categories by areas showed “neighbourhoods in Vancouver with lower socio-economic status experience statistically significant increases in crime, whereas higher socio-economic neighbourhoods experience statistically significant decreases in crime,” the study said.

And while theft, vehicle theft and vehicle break-ins were down in disadvantaged areas, they were up in wealthier ones, “an expected finding considering that most businesses were shuttered and workday traffic and parking would be essentially eliminated in those (central) areas during the COVID-19 lockdown,” it said.

“During the pandemic, theft from vehicles increased in higher socio-economic status neighbourhoods” because more people were working and parking their cars at home, the authors said.

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Research around the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on crime also showed an initial drop in criminal activity at the beginning of lockdowns followed by hikes in crime as social restrictions were eased, they said.

The authors noted that the neighbourhoods with low socio-economic factors and higher crime are also home to those who were more likely to have lost their job because of COVID restrictions.

“As similar pandemics emerge, policy-makers may find it prudent to provide residents in those neighbourhoods with additional supports, rather than simply over policing these areas,” they said.

Also, residents of poorer neighbourhoods may be more visible to police during lockdowns because they aren’t as easily able to stay at home during restrictions, the authors said.

Andresen said the results show how the importance of providing affordable housing and a living wage for lower-income earners.


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