Physical Distancing, Violence, and Crime in US Cities during the Coronavirus Pandemic

J Urban Health. 2021 Dec;98(6):772-776. doi: 10.1007/s11524-021-00593-4. Epub 2021 Nov 29.


Violent crime increased and most property crime decreased in many United States (US) cities during the coronavirus pandemic. Using negative binomial regressions, we examined the association between physical distancing (a central coronavirus containment strategy) and crime within 16 large cities (in 12 US states and the District of Columbia) through July 2020. Physical distancing was measured with aggregated smartphone data and defined as the average change in the percentage of the population staying completely at home. Outcome data were obtained from the Gun Violence Archive and city open data portals. In multivariable models, increases in the percentage of the population staying home were associated with decreases in reported incidents of aggravated assault, interpersonal firearm violence, theft, rape, and robbery, and increases in arson, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. Results suggest that changes in the frequency of interpersonal interactions affected crime during the coronavirus pandemic. More research is needed on the specificity of these assocations and their underlying mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cities
  • Coronavirus*
  • Crime
  • District of Columbia
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Physical Distancing
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Violence