COVID-19 Effects on Pennsylvania Crime Trends: A Rural/Urban Comparison


  • David Yerger
  • Brandon Vick
  • Robert Orth
  • Charles Gartside



COVID, Crime, Protection from Abuse, Homicide


The project’s primary goal was to investigate whether shocks stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic either triggered or heightened human suffering in two crime-related areas: murder and abuse. A secondary goal was to identify rural-urban differences in these outcomes both before and during the pandemic. An analysis of homicides and protection from abuse orders over time provided valuable insights regarding crime trends and rural-urban differences, but it did not suggest large, long-term effects due to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the state. The statewide homicide rate rose 21 percent from 2019 to 2020, but the increase was specific to a certain group and location: Black, male victims in Philadelphia County, murdered with a firearm, with most of these incidents being homicides, with no known relationship between the victim and offender (Philadelphia County’s murder rate increased 36 percent in 2020). In rural counties, the 2020 murder rate rose 24 percent, and in non-Philadelphia urban counties, there was a 3 percent increase. It should be noted that these upward trends came after homicides steadily rose from 2014 to 2018, before falling significantly in 2019, and then rising in 2020. The exploratory analysis on county-levels of COVID case and death rates found no statistical evidence that high COVID-rate counties were more likely to experience high levels of protection from abuse orders or homicides. However, the analysis found that counties with higher unemployment rates and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation also experienced higher murder rates and protection from abuse order prevalence in 2020 (a relationship that holds when tested across other years).