No matter how fired up die-hard sports fans become, the city streets may actually be safer on game days, according to a UC Berkeley study.
The study shows that crime rates are markedly lower during televised sporting events. Authored by Hannah Laqueur and Ryan Copus, doctoral candidates in UC Berkeley School of Law’s jurisprudence and social policy program, the research advances the much-debated topic of whether violent media causes, defers or prevents crime by asking if the same concept applies to televised sports.
Laqueur and Copus began postulating theories to support the connection between entertainment and crime when they met in a class about the decline of crime rates in the 1990s. The pair originally started by examining correlations between crime rates and the release of home video games, which became popular during the 1990s.
But after struggling to find the data and research design they needed to move forward with their project, they decided to research crime trends as related to televised sporting events in Chicago, which releases crime data by the minute.
Laqueur and Copus discovered that crime reports decreased by about 15 percent during games that were televised compared with games that were not televised. Furthermore, there was no significant spike in crime up to three hours after the game, implying that rather than simply delaying their crimes, potential criminals were less likely to break the law at all.
“There’s always the question, (if) you stop a crime either with police or with a game, is that a crime that’s really prevented? Or is that a crime that’s prevented for now and pops up at a later date?” Copus said. “At least in the short term, it looks like these are really crimes prevented, not just put off until a different time.”
According to Franklin Zimring, the William G. Simon professor of law at UC Berkeley, this observation can be explained by interpreting crime as a form of entertainment. As long as someone is busy watching televised sports, he or she is unable to commit a crime.
“If there’s something extremely interesting to you going on on Monday night, (something) that you want to spend time and attention watching, that’s time and attention that you’re not going to spend getting involved in fights or burglarizing houses,” Zimring said. “You’re too busy watching the game.”
Crime can be considered an income-producing activity or a recreational activity, Zimring said. He added that economists might question Copus and Laqueur’s findings on the grounds that criminals are motivated by a purely financial incentive.
Despite the implications of their research, the two doctoral students said they do not plan to suggest changes regarding the public scheduling of sports games.
“We’re not seriously going to be policy advocates,” Laqueur said. “We think (the research is) more interesting in terms of what it says about criminal behavior.”
She and Copus plan on publishing a similar study — following trends in the Chicago crime rate over a longer period of time both before and after sports games — to see if crime rates eventually rise to compensate for the game-related dip.
Contact Lydia Tuan and Haley Massara at [email protected].