Lock your doors: COVID crime wave fears
Crime levels could return to the bad old days, driven by high rates of entrenched unemployment in the wake of the pandemic, according to the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.
Police are part of a high-level team of experts across health, economics and law to forecast the aftermath of COVID-19, especially when government payments like JobSeeker and JobKeeper end next year.
Project Spring was created earlier this year by the state government to predict how the virus would change the community and the economy in the coming years, including crime rates and in particular property crime, housing, suicide and child protection.
It is the first time in decades that senior police are working alongside economists and they are looking at Australia's last recession in the 90s to get a steer on what may be around the corner for crime trends.
Mr Fuller fears desperate people will resort to property crime.
On the back of the 1990-1992 recession, when unemployment peaked at 10.7 per cent in 1993, crime rates followed an upward trend for more than a decade.
"When you have a deep recession, it leads to entrenched unemployment and last time it took 10-15 years to recover from that," Mr Fuller said.
Mr Fuller said while society has changed over 30 years, there were similarities between the last recession and now - increasing unemployment and a dipping GDP.
"There are lots of similarity going into the next couple of years which is why police are on high alert particularly around property crime," Mr Fuller said.
"From our perspective we think there are lots of lesson to be learned.
"We are concerned that a short time after the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments stop, particularly young men who have been unemployed for some time and who don't have a network of support that will have to turn to crime.
"Again going on history in terms of the 90s, and I appreciate the world has changed over the last 30 years, but young men in particular, if they are unemployed for more than 12 months is often unemployed for up to a decade, which is quite concerning."
Since 2005, break and enter offences have halved and armed robberies were down by two thirds, he added.
Forecasting a potential rise in these crimes post-pandemic, police have taken a back-to-basics approach to training, with a focus on investigating offences like break and enters.
While the pandemic had not forced an uptick in crime trends to date, Mr Fuller said, Australia was living in "false environment".
"If you look at the crime environment at the moment crime is still stable and in many areas falling," he said.
"Some of that is a by product of not as many cars on the road, as many people out, less potential victims, health orders have restricted the movements of people.
"So at the moment it's very difficult to get a read on crime."
An exception to that was child and adult sexual assault and cybercrime, which continued to challenge police.
"I think going into next year you will see cyber crime exponentially grow and I think we will possibly see property crime over the next five years get back to levels we may have seen 15 years ago," he said.
"Even down to stealing from MV (motor vehicles), people handbags being stolen, mobile phones being stolen. Not necessarily crimes with violence but even crime of opportunity where people can take someone's mobile phone and go and sell it for cash."
However, University of Sydney criminologist Dr Garner Clancey pointed out the differences in Australia now and then that would make a return to high crime rates doubtful.
"Motor vehicles are much more difficult to offend against these days than they were 20 years ago," he said.
"Homes are much more difficult to offend against these days than they were 20 years ago. High density living means we don't have, we have lots of people in places that are secure.
The outcomes of the Project Spring meetings, headed by Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Tim Reardon, have been used to "develop rapid and new responses to economic and social issues" post-pandemic.
This goes beyond trying to map the crime environment for 2021-22.
Originally published as Lock your doors: COVID crime wave fears