Middle Tennessee State University

MTSU, Texas State professors posit pandemic offers 'largest criminological experiment in history'

Co-authors suggest altering crime data analysis during pandemic because of lifestyle changes

Newswise — MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic are prompting an MTSU professor to reconsider the way crime statistics are analyzed.

In a research paper published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, Ben Stickle, an associate professor of criminal justice administration, posits that the novel coronavirus tragedy presents a unique opportunity for a “randomized control trial.”

“Crime Rates in a Pandemic: the Largest Criminological Experiment in History” was co-authored by Stickle and Marcus Felson of Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, and published in June 2020 by the American Journal of Criminal Justice.

Stickle and Felson advocate considering crime data from the onset of the pandemic in terms of time periods that correspond to lifestyle differences.

“How we spend our time, our routine activities, is really what’s shifted,” Stickle said.

Typically, other variables such as race, gender and income would carry more weight in crime data analysis. However, Stickle and Felson divide the early stages of the pandemic into seven periods from February to May 2020 for assessing crime statistics. The second period, from mid-February to mid-March is significant because that’s when some cities and states began to issue “stay-at-home” orders.

“What I think you’ll find is that there will be some small changes in crime during this period because this is when people begin to have some awareness of the pending issues that we’ve dealt with this year and may have voluntarily begun to change lifestyles,” Stickle said.

In fact, while the federal government has been criticized heavily for not applying a comprehensive national approach to pandemic policy, Stickle said this actually opens up more possibilities for the analysis of crime statistics.

“All of these differing variations by state actually allow researchers a greater number of tools to really test so many theories that we’ve had for so long,” Stickle said.

For example, Stickle said, initial data indicate that domestic violence has not increased appreciably with more people staying home during the pandemic, but it is uncertain whether that trend will continue.

Furthermore, Stickle said, the increase in online retail purchases due to the pandemic creates a need for greater study of cyberspace crimes, including fraud.

“The typical ways that we research crime and break things down don’t really apply anymore,” Stickle said.


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