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Professor Abrams’ research shows substantial drop in crime during COVID-19 pandemic

September 30, 2020

Professor Abrams’ research suggests that criminal activity has dropped substantially, dramatically, and broadly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor of Law, Business, and Public Policy David S. Abrams recently published “COVID-19: An Early Empirical Look,” an Institute for Law and Economics research paper that analyzes the collected data from over 25 large cities in the U.S., documenting the short-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on crime.

Abrams is one of the country’s leading young economists working in empirical law and economics.

His research has uncovered overall crime rate drops of over 35% in Pittsburgh, New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In Philadelphia, Abrams found “a drop in police stops and a rise in Black detainee share … which may reflect the racial composition of essential workers.”

Overall, Abrams’ research shows “a widespread immediate drop in both criminal incidents and arrests most heavily pronounced among drug crimes, theft, residential burglaries, and most violent crimes.” He notes that the decline occurred before most stay-at-home orders and coincided with a decline in individual mobility.

Homicides and shootings showed no decline while non-residential burglaries and car thefts in most cities increased. Abrams concludes that this data suggests “that criminal activity was displaced to locations with fewer people.”

Abrams’ work strives to understand and measure how individuals respond to incentives in various legal contexts. In addition to his empirical work on COVID-19 and crime, Abrams’ research in the criminal justice context also delves into whether longer sentences deter crime, how defendant race impacts judicial decisions, to what extent attorney skill affects case outcomes, and how much individuals value freedom.

His interests also include intellectual property, law and health economics, labor economics, and corporate finance, and his scholarship has appeared in many top peer-reviewed journals and law reviews, including University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Stanford Law Review, University of Chicago Law Review, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, and Journal of Legal Studies.

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