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Study: Watching Televised Sports Reduces Crime

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Supporters of the Italian soccer team react at pub in Rome as they watch the World Cup qualifying match between Italy and Sweden on Nov. 13, 2017.

By Tala Salem, U.S. News & World Report

Even criminals stop what they're doing to watch a big game.

 A recent study suggests that significant decreases in crime occur during televised sporting events, with the number of reports of violent, property and drug crime down as much as 25 percent during game hours.

The study, published in the Journal of Sports Economics, looked at the Chicago area and noted the effect for most sporting events across all crime categories, implying individuals spent their time watching sports instead of committing crimes and that entertainment is a potent crime deterrent. For instance, crime in Chicago during "Monday Night Football" games involving the hometown Bears was approximately 15 percent lower than when the team was not playing. It further noted that the crime reductions were driven almost entirely by games the Bears were winning.

Researchers analyzed crime reports from January 2001 through December 2013 from the Chicago Police Department's Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis Reporting System, merging this data with NFL, NBA and MLB game schedules.

"We chose Chicago in large part because they make this data publicly available," says Hannah Laqueur, who co-authored the study. "Plus, Chicago is a city known for caring about its sports teams."

The question of whether entertainment makes us more or less violent has long been debated, according to Laqueur, but less attention has been given to its diversionary power, with "almost no empirical work" having been done on the question.

"One important lesson from our paper is that we should take the diversionary benefits of entertainment more seriously," Laqueur says. "It sounds somewhat silly and obvious, but we shouldn't ignore the fact that it's hard for people to commit crimes if they're at home or at a bar watching a game."

Crime during the Super Bowl was approximately 25 percent lower, which amounts to roughly 60 fewer crimes. Violent and property crime were also approximately 15 to 20 percent lower during the Super Bowl. The NBA and MLB games generated similar but smaller effects.

According to Laqueur, there were no offsetting increases in crime in the hours before or after games, suggesting some amount of crime is opportunistic and situational. The important determinants of crime "aren't just traditional things like police, prison sentences and poverty but also more 'everyday' things like the types and amount of entertainment to which we have access," Laqueur says.

The findings promote the promise of recreation in crime prevention. The study notes the idea was pivotal to proposals for community activities like "midnight basketball" during the 1990s. Laqueur says that while midnight basketball was famously mocked and wasn't funded, the effects this study found for games such as "Monday Night Football" suggest this theory has merit.

"For youth in particular, it's important to provide alternative pro-social activities," Laqueur says. "Watching sports may be one such activity."

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