Drug offence detection during the pandemic: An ARIMA analysis of rates and regional differences in Queensland, Australia

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Journal of Criminology


Public commentary has offered mixed opinion on the likely impact of COVID-19 restrictions on drug-related offending. On the one hand, it is argued that drug users – and the drug markets in which they interact – may have become the incidental targets of law enforcement as police seek to enforce social distancing regulations by focusing their efforts on street-level pedestrian activity or open-air gatherings. On the other, interstate border closures and restrictions on person and freight traffic are thought to have interrupted illicit drug supply chains, temporarily reducing or displacing market activity at the street level and thus reducing police detections of drug users. In this study, we extend current analyses of crime during the COVID-19 pandemic to explore how the rate of police detection for drug possession and other drug-related offences has changed. Using crime data from the Australian state of Queensland, we use Auto-Regressive Integrated and Moving Average time series modelling techniques to explore historical trends and their dynamic forecasts. We then compare actual offence rates for March through June to identify any statistically significant changes. We find that reported drug offences significantly vary across time and location highlighting that the impact of COVID-19 is not universal across Queensland. Thus, the significant heterogeneity in local drug market dynamics that has elsewhere been documented remains even in a major crisis with significant changes in policing activity and resource allocation. Our analysis has significant import for criminal justice practitioners in further understanding drug market dynamics and drug-related offending during COVID-19 restrictions.

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