Does Watching TV Sports Lower Crime Rates?

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A UC Davis study finds drop in crime during big games. Photo by Stephen Bowler via Flickr

If Americans spent more time watching televised sports, there might be a decrease in crime, according to a study by the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

In “Entertainment as Crime Prevention: Evidence from Chicago Sports Games,” published in the Journal of Sports Economics last month, researchers Ryan Copus and Hannah Laqueur observed consistent decreases in crime during the times that games aired in Chicago.

Copus and Laqueur found that overall crime during the Bears “Monday Night Football” is roughly 15 percent lower than the same time on Monday nights when the Bears are not playing, and noted similar but smaller effects for Chicago’s basketball and baseball teams.

More popular games showed a stronger effect, with the Super Bowl producing the most dramatic reduction: a decrease of approximately 25 percent during game coverage, amounting to roughly 60 fewer crimes.

While violence in the media has provoked concerns about increasing aggressive behavior among viewers, little exploration has been made of television’s power to divert people from criminal activity. The study’s results bear out the “incapacitation hypothesis”: If people are entertained, they are not committing crimes.

The authors believe that the diversionary power of movies, television, and video games may compensate for their potential short-term aggression-inducing effects.

To conduct their study, Copus and Laqueur compared crime reports from January 2001 to December 2013 by the half hour when Chicago’s major professional sports teams were playing to crime reports from the same time, day, and month when the teams were not playing. The researchers repeated this analysis for the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and the World Series.

The study’s results do not exclude the possibility that those who forgo criminal activity while watching a game will commit crime in the days or weeks before or after the game takes place instead.

Still, Copus and Laqueur’s analysis could be significant to the study of crime control given what it suggests about criminal behavior—namely, that “some share of crime may be best understood not as a predetermined and calculated activity but rather as itself recreation.”

“There is not a set ‘demand’ for criminal activity,” the study’s authors write. “Rather, some amount of crime is opportunistic and situational – if prevented today, it does not inevitably occur tomorrow.”

The implication: some additional game nights might prove a useful tool for crime prevention.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Elena Schwartz.  Readers’ comments are welcome.

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