University of California Berkeley Law School PhD candidates Hannah Laqueur and Ryan Copus theorize that crime in Chicago drops during televised sporting events.
Updated: July 6, 2014 6:29AM
Criminals are sports fans too.
That’s one of the theories behind research showing that on Monday nights when the Bears play, crime in Chicago drops 13 percent on average.
Crime also fell 7 percent on average during Cubs or White Sox playoff games and by 2 percent during Bulls televised playoffs, according to a working paper by two doctoral candidates at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School.
Looking at Chicago’s minute-by-minute crime reports, Ryan Copus and Hannah Laqueur found that the biggest drop in Chicago crime during a sporting event — 26 percent — happens during the Super Bowl.
Officer Michael Garza, a Chicago cop for 21 years, doesn’t have a Ph.D, but he’s noticed the same thing.
“When the Bears made the playoffs once, I was out there on the street and nobody else was there,” said Garza, who works in the 4th District. No matter what the neighborhood, he said, “Crime drops during major events like playoffs. People like their sports.”
But Copus and Laqueur have figured out a way to measure just how much people like their sports.
Whether it’s the Super Bowl, a Bears Monday night game or Major League Baseball or NBA playoff — if it’s on TV, Copus and Laqueur say crime drops in Chicago. They said it’s because crooks are glued to their couches watching the game like the rest of us. So they can’t be outside causing trouble.
“We believe fewer potential offenders on the streets largely explain the declines in crime,” they wrote in their paper.
The pair started out trying to prove that video games could lead to less crime for the same reason. But the lack of solid data on video game usage made it difficult to improve on the existing research.
“We started brainstorming what are some other kinds of entertainment that would allow us to study this theory,” Laqueur said. They settled on televised sports in part because it was easy to obtain game schedules.
When they discovered Chicago had publicly available minute-by-minute crime data going back to 2001, the city became the obvious choice to study. For the purposes of the study, it also helped that “Chicago is a city known for caring about its sports teams,” Copus said.
The pair went over 12 years of data, comparing crimes on the day and time when the Chicago sports teams played televised games to crimes in same the periods the teams weren’t playing.
Copus and Laqueur looked at different categories of crime — violent, property, drug and other — and found significant drops across the board. But it might the fact that cops are sports fans, too, account for some of the declines?
The researchers say yes. A steeper drop in drug crime — 63 percent during the Super Bowl and 29 percent during Bears’ Monday Night Football appearances — could be explained by the fact that police have more discretion in making drug arrests.
“Police watching or listening to the games may be a partial explanation for the particularly large drops in drug crimes,” Copus said.
But the pair still believe most of the crime decline is due to more potential offenders watching sports.
“We’re comforted by the fact that we see declines in all crime categories including violent and property crime, which we would expect to mostly be reported by the citizenry and not generally subject to police discretion,” Laqueur said.
Copus and Laqueur hope their work helps change the conversation about media and violence. Most research so far has focused on whether violence in video games, movies and TV makes people more violent in real life.
The researchers don’t take sides in that debate, but instead argue that at least while people are viewing such media, they are not in a position to hurt society.
“People are usually sitting on couches when they interact with violent media, but people rarely mention how hard it is to commit crimes while sitting on a couch,” Copus said.
One area the research didn’t cover, however, was hockey.
“Neither of us are hockey fans,” said Copus, who is from Texas and lives in California. “It’s not like you hear a lot about hockey here or in Texas.”