Air pollution causes crime increase

A new study has suggested there is a link between air pollution and crime across the whole of London. The report by researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) suggests that crime in the capital is being driven by the quality of the air that we breathe.

The results show more polluted areas see spikes in crime, particularly for petty offences such as like shoplifting and pick-pocketing, and also that both rich and poor areas are affected almost equally. The authors of the paper say tackling air pollution could help the city tackle crime as well as helping the environment.

Overall, the researchers’ findings show the crime rate in London is over 8 per cent higher on the most polluted days of the year than the least.

While the study relies on observational data and therefore cannot make definitive conclusions, it adds to a small but growing body of evidence linking pollution and crime.

Dr Sefi Roth, an expert in environmental economics at LSE who co-authored the report, explained: “We analysed data on air pollution and more than 1.8 million crimes over two years in London – we link that with data on air pollution, and we use various statistical techniques to ensure our results are robust.”

Previous experiments have shown that increased levels of particulate matter in the air lead to increased blood levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, and this can result in increased stress hormone levels which may in turn lead to an increased likelihood a person will commit a crime.

“Pollution can have a negative effect on people’s ways of thinking, including decision making and the way they think about future punishment,” added Dr Roth.“Higher levels of pollution mean higher levels of cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol affect the way that punishment is being perceived by criminals.”