Pandemic Restrictions and Spatiotemporal Crime Patterns in New York, São Paulo, and Stockholm

AuthorTulio Kahn,Anders Östlund,Vania Ceccato,Christopher Herrmann
Date01 February 2022
Published date01 February 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(1) 120 –149
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862211038471
Pandemic Restrictions
and Spatiotemporal Crime
Patterns in New York, São
Paulo, and Stockholm
Vania Ceccato1, Tulio Kahn2, Christopher Herrmann3,
and Anders Östlund4
Studies are showing evidence of the effect of changes in routine activities due to
the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic on crime levels in many cities worldwide. This study
evaluates the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on temporal and spatial
patterns of crime in three major cities under very different national contexts.
Each of the three countries and cities experienced different levels of pandemic
restrictions and societal closure. The cities of New York (the United States),
São Paulo (Brazil), and Stockholm (Sweden) were selected as cases. Temporal
quantitative methods, spatial statistics techniques, and Geographical Information
System (GIS) underlie the methodology used in this study. Findings show that there
is a statistically significant break in the trend in crime levels after the stay-at-home
orders were implemented in New York City, São Paulo, and Stockholm in the first
months of 2020; the only exception was for murder. Such an impact varies by crime
type and city context, but increases again after a few months, indicating how fast
crime and criminals adapt. Residential burglary decreased, whereas nonresidential
burglary increased overall. Changes in the levels and geography of vehicle thefts
were observed, with an overall increase of significant cold spots but, in several
cases, also solidification of existing crime concentrations in known crime attractors
and in some deprived areas.
1KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
2Fundação Espaço Democrático, São Paulo, Brazil
3John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City, USA
4Swedish Police Authority, Stockholm, Sweden
Corresponding Author:
Vania Ceccato, Department of Urban Planning and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology,
Teknikringen 10 A, 100 44 Stockholm, Sweden.
1038471CCJXXX10.1177/10439862211038471Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeCeccato et al.
Ceccato et al. 121
COVID-19, routine activity, spatial–temporal analysis, police statistics, hotspots,
ARIMA, differential local Moran statistic
Urban life has changed considerably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in
early 2020. People now spend less time out of their homes and offices, many employ-
ees work from home, children are learning from home, and mask wearing and social
distancing have become the new social order. By April 2020, strict lockdown orders
had been implemented in numerous countries around the world, whereas a few coun-
tries, such as Sweden, became known worldwide for adopting “lighter” stay-at-home
recommendations. Although recent studies of North American and European cities
have shown a substantial impact on the volume and distribution of crime, in particular
violence (e.g., Gerell et al., 2020; Mohler et al., 2020; Rosenfeld & Lopez, 2020), the
international literature that compares different cities in different countries in terms of
crime levels and geography is still lacking. Findings of comparative studies of this
type can be particularly relevant for criminological research to illustrate the impact of
changes on local criminogenic conditions imposed by changes in routine activity. As
stated by Stickle and Felson (2020), these circumstances provide researchers with
naturally occurring, quasi-randomized control experiment conditions that allow more
advanced testing of criminological theories.
To contribute to this knowledge base, we report here variations between crime lev-
els and crime geography in 2019 and compare those variations with crime reported
during the 2020 stay-at-home recommendations in three major cities—New York, São
Paulo, and Stockholm—in different country contexts: the United States, Brazil, and
Sweden. Using multiple analytical strategies, we compare crime levels and geography
before and after the stay-at-home recommendations in these three cities. Temporal
quantitative methods, spatial statistics techniques, and Geographical Information
Systems (GIS) underlie the exploratory methodology used in this study. Note that the
research presented in this article is exploratory in nature because the analysis illus-
trates how differences in crime levels and geography are affected overall by the lock-
down and how key concepts from environmental criminology theories can help
interpret these changes. The study does not specifically test measures (for instance, of
guardianship, ambient population, number of people close to their residential nodes)
that would have to be tested to determine the applicability of the theories in interpret-
ing the impact of the lockdown restrictions.
The cities constitute interesting case studies for several reasons. First, they repre-
sent different stay-at-home restriction models imposed by local governments during
the pandemic. On one hand, New York City serves as an example of “strict lockdown”
measures put into operation from Week 12, with basic services and schools closed
until mid-June 2020. On the other hand, Stockholm represents a case of “mild lock-
down” during the same time period, with businesses and primary schools open (but
most secondary schools and universities closed), whereas São Paulo is the in-between

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