Researchers Ryan Copus and Hannah Laquer found that crime in Chicago — violent crime, drug arrests and property crime — all took a nosedive when there was a game on TV between 2001 and 2013.
The study, titled “Entertainment as Crime Prevention: Evidence from Chicago Sports Games,” was inspired by retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who, during the 2011 NFL lockout issued this challenge: “Do this research. … If we don’t have a season, watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game … [People have] nothing else to do.”
Lewis was mocked by social scientists, police and sports columnists who said there was no data to support the linebacker’s hypothesis that sports games on TV make Americans safer.
But Copus and Laquer, doctoral candidates at the University of California Berkeley Law School, say their research shows Lewis was on to something.
“We think our paper is pretty good evidence that Ray Lewis was right. Lewis claimed that an NFL lockout would lead to higher crime, and we find large decreases in crime during games, and no evidence of short-term increases before or after the game,” Copus said.
The study compared city by-the-minute crime stats during televised NFL, NBA and MLB games and non-game days. (They didn’t include Blackhawks games, but we’ll get to that later.)
“In general, we find substantial declines during games across crime types — property, violent, drug and other — with the largest reductions for drug crime,” Copus said.
The main reason: both criminals and police love sports to distraction.
“Potential offenders are distracted by the game,” Copus said.
“We don’t think other explanations can account for that. So, for example, the fact that potential victims are inside watching the game could explain why we don’t see as much violent crime, but we don’t think it’s a very good explanation for the reductions in property crime.”
And when it comes to game-time declines in drug arrests, Copus said the research suggests that police are willing to wait until after the game to make arrests.
“Police officers might be more lax on a big game day, but it’s hard to rigorously test the theory,” Copus said. “We do see particularly large reductions in drug crime that we think are probably in part due to police officers taking it a little easy on drug crimes during games.”
The researchers didn’t pick Chicago as its test case due to our city’s reputation for shootings that earned the nickname “Chiraq.”
“We ended up using data from Chicago mostly because [police] make their by-the-minute criminal incident reports publicly available. Most cities don’t,” Copus said. “Plus, Chicago is a city known for caring about its sports teams.”
And the sports team Chicagoans collectively care about the most — Da Bears — had the biggest positive effect on crime, especially on Monday Night Football, the study found.
When the Bears won Monday night games, total crime citywide dropped 17 percent. That’s second only to the Super Bowl, which posted a 26 percent decrease in total crime, including a 63 percent dip in drug arrests, according to the analysis.