The COVID-19 pandemic drastically affected many Americans’ daily lives, but data indicates it may have had at least one positive effect. Amid the stay-at-home orders in 2020, property crime rates fell by at least 8%, according to the newest ValuePenguin study that analyzes FBI data. But with stay-at-home orders lifted, quarterly data reveals that many cities saw a spike in property crimes between 2021 and 2022.
We looked at how property crime rates have changed over time, the most common types of property crimes and where they occur.
- Key findings
- Property crime rates fell by 8.1% between 2019 and 2020
- Where do property crimes happen, and which offenses are most common?
- Joliet, Ill., saw biggest spike in property crime between Q1 2021 and Q1 2022
- Protecting your personal property: 4 things to know about your home insurance
- Property crime rates fell by 8.1% between 2019 and 2020 — the latest available full-year data. Overall, property crime rates are down by 61.9% since 1991, when the property crime rate was at its highest. This comes as violent crimes — which are less prevalent but more severe — rose by 4.6% between 2019 and 2020.
- Nearly 41% of property crimes occurred at a residence or home in 2020. Meanwhile, nearly 11% took place in a parking lot or garage. Larceny and theft were the most common offenses, making up 45.7% of the total property crimes committed. That’s followed by destruction, damage and vandalism (18.9%).
- Victims of property crimes are less likely to know the offender than victims of violent crimes. 42.2% of property crime victims report they didn’t know the offender. On the other hand, 89.6% of violent crime victims say they knew the offender.
- Between the first quarters of 2021 and 2022, the number of property crimes jumped in 62 of the 100 largest cities with available data. Of these, cities in Illinois saw the highest spike and lowest dip in property crimes. In Joliet, where property crimes increased the most, the number of offenses committed jumped by 1,000%. On the other hand, property crimes in Rockford, Ill., dropped by 78%, ranking it lowest overall.
- Many Americans are uninformed about how home and vehicle break-ins and thefts are covered in their homeowners and renters insurance policies. A March 2022 ValuePenguin survey on insurance misconceptions revealed that 43% of Americans don’t know the extent of their policy’s coverage under various theft scenarios, which could prevent them from receiving the compensation for which they’re entitled.
How did we analyze property crime?
ValuePenguin researchers analyzed annual FBI crime data, including by offense type. The FBI categorizes the following offenses as property crimes:
- Burglary/breaking and entering
- Motor vehicle theft
- Stolen property
Using FBI data from 2020 (the latest available), researchers determined the relationship between property crime offenders and victims and the locations where property crimes are most often committed.
While the FBI receives reports from thousands of federal, state and county police departments (among others), not all agencies participate every year. Therefore, the annual property crime data isn’t exhaustive, but it offers a good indication of how crime rates have changed over time.
To determine which cities saw the biggest percentage change in property crimes, we compared property crime data from the first quarters of 2021 and 2022.
Property crime rates fell by 8.1% between 2019 and 2020
While there were 2,130.6 property crimes per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2019, that figure dropped to 1,958.2 in 2020 — a decrease of 8.1%. Given the widespread pandemic restrictions in 2020, this drop isn’t entirely surprising. Some early studies predicted that stay-at-home measures and social distancing guidelines would directly impact non-violent crime rates — particularly because of two criminology theories: opportunity theory and routine activity theory. Here’s a definition of each:
- Opportunity theory suggests that some individuals don’t go out of their way to commit a crime. Rather, they’ll take the opportunity as it arises. For example, an individual that comes across an unattended bicycle on someone’s property may take the opportunity to steal it.
- Routine activity theory suggests that some offenders choose a target based on their routines. Both the offender’s routine and the target’s routine are important factors. For example, offenders may routinely walk through specific neighborhoods and target homes typically empty at the same time. Unlike opportunity theory, routine activity theory involves active planning.
Opportunity theory and routine activity theory suggest that the COVID-19 crisis impacted the property crime rate because it interrupted the daily movements of potential targets and offenders alike. Property crimes in public spaces, such as theft and robbery, typically depend on a high flow of potential targets — with fewer people in public spaces, offenders likely didn’t have as many opportunities. Similarly, fewer houses were left unsupervised because most people stayed home throughout the day, which likely made it much more difficult to commit residential property crimes.
Still, the COVID-19 crisis isn’t the only reason for the drop. Property crime rates have been steadily declining since 1991, when the property crime rate was at its highest. To give some context, there were 5,140.2 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 1991 — meaning the rate is down by 61.9% since its peak (tracking began in 1985).
A 2015 study from the Brennan Center for Justice suggests that various social, economic and environmental factors likely account for the decline over the years — not just in property crimes but overall. But others aren’t sure property crimes have fallen so dramatically. Rather, critics say the FBI’s data collection methods aren’t reliable because the number of agencies reporting crime data changes yearly.
Those who believe FBI data isn’t accurate also cite the violent crimes rate, which rose by 4.6% between 2019 and 2020. Generally, violent crime statistics are considered more reliable because the evidence is typically more substantial than with property crimes, and victims of property crimes are less likely to file a report. Regardless, violent crimes aren’t typically a good indicator of overall U.S. crime rates. While violent crimes are more severe than property crimes, they’re much less prevalent. In 2020, the FBI reported 398.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people — far less than the 1,958.2 property crimes committed per 100,000 people.
The COVID-19 pandemic may also offer a possible explanation for why violent crimes rose while property crimes dropped. In contrast to opportunity theory and routine theory, crime theories that account for individual and structural strain suggest that social distancing guidelines likely led to higher levels of stress, anxiety, frustration and anger — which ultimately could explain the increase in violent crimes. Similarly, quarantining at home may have also reduced intervention opportunities for domestic violence and abuse victims or prevented them from accessing support.
Where do property crimes happen, and which offenses are most common?
Where property crimes occur may also offer some support to why we’ve seen the rate drop. Overall, 40.9% of property crimes in 2020 took place at a residence or home — making it the most common location overall and lending some additional support to the stay-at-home theory.
Following residences and homes, 10.8% of property crimes occurred in parking lots or garages, and 8.4% occurred on highways, sidewalks or other streets.
Location of property crimes in 2020
Number of crimes committed
Percentage of total
Source: ValuePenguin analysis of 2020 FBI data. Percentages are rounded to one decimal for consistency.
Larceny and theft made up the majority of property crime offenses in 2020 at 45.7%. That’s followed by destruction and vandalism (18.9%) and fraud (12.0%). Residences and homes are more likely to be the site of larcenies and thefts than any other offense — 40.4% of the property crimes committed are these types of offenses.
Additionally, while property crimes have declined, the value of stolen goods is on the rise. Overall, the total value of goods stolen in robberies, burglaries and larcenies or thefts was $971.3 billion in 2020 — up from $30.3 billion in 2019.
Total value of goods stolen and recovered from robberies, burglaries and larcenies/thefts
Total value stolen
Percentage of total value that was recovered
|2020||$971.3 billion||$54.5 billion||6%|
|2019||$30.3 billion||$8.2 billion||27%|
|2018||$15.4 billion||$4.4 billion||28%|
|2017||$14.4 billion||$4.1 billion||29%|
|2016||$16.0 billion||$3.9 billion||25%|
Source: ValuePenguin analysis of FBI data
What’s more, the percentage of stolen goods recovered has decreased significantly. While 27% of the stolen goods were recovered in 2019, just 6% were recovered in 2020. That leaves $916.9 billion in the value of stolen goods in 2020 unrecovered.
At first glance, the rising value of total goods stolen could support the theory that the FBI data isn’t entirely accurate, as the data seemingly contradicts the falling crime rates. However, this data doesn’t paint an entirely clear picture. Notably, a deeper analysis of the type of goods stolen indicates that more high-value goods may have been stolen in 2020. The average value of stolen motor vehicles, for example, was just over $12,500 in 2019. Meanwhile, the average value of stolen motor vehicles was nearly $116,400 in 2020.
Property crime victims less likely to know the offender than violent crime victims
The relationship between the victim and offender of property crimes is also worth noting — particularly in comparison to violent crime data. Among property crime victims in 2020, 42% said they didn’t know the offender. Comparatively, violent crime victims are more likely to know the offender: 89.6% said they knew the offender in some fashion, and 25.8% of these said their family members were offenders.
Relationship of victims to offenders in 2020
Number of victims
Offender was a family member
Offender was a family member or other
Offender was known to victim or other
Offender was a stranger
All other offender relationships
Source: ValuePenguin analysis of FBI data
Those figures support the social isolation theory and may explain why violent crimes rose while property crimes dropped.
Joliet, Ill., saw biggest spike in property crime between Q1 2021 and Q1 2022
Property crime rates may have dropped between 2019 and 2020, but more recent data tells a different story. Between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, the number of property crimes has increased for 62 of the 100 largest cities that reported crime data.
Again, not all cities report their crime data to the FBI — and those that don’t are among the largest in the U.S., so this analysis has some limitations. For example, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago didn’t report their quarterly crime data and were subsequently excluded from this study.
Among the cities with the largest spikes, Joliet, Ill., ranks the highest. Between the first quarters of 2021 and 2022, the number of property crimes jumped from 32 to 352 — a 1,000% increase. Larceny and theft were most common for both quarters, increasing from 23 to 290, though they made up a bigger share of the crimes committed during 2022. While 71.9% of the property crimes committed in the first quarter of 2021 were larceny or theft, this offense made up 82.4% of the property crimes committed in the first quarter of 2022.
Newark, N.J., is the only other city reporting a triple-digit increase in property crimes, at 781%. To contextualize that change, there were 154 property crimes committed during the first quarter of 2021 — that jumped to 1,356 in the first quarter of 2022. Notably, motor vehicle theft — the most common offense in Newark during both quarters — increased from 73 offenses to 692. While motor vehicle theft made up 47.4% of the property crimes committed during the first quarter of 2021, just over half (51.0%) of the property crimes committed during the first quarter of 2022 were motor vehicle theft.
Rockford, Ill., saw largest drop in property crime between Q1 2021 and Q1 2022
Among the cities with the most significant drops in property crime between the first quarters of 2021 and 2022, Illinois takes the lead again.
Rockford, Ill., a city around 110 miles from Joliet, saw a 78% decrease in property crime. Particularly, larceny and theft, the most common property crime offense during both quarters, dropped both in numbers and prominence. There were 574 larceny/theft incidents in the first quarter of 2021, which made up 72.1% of the property crimes committed. That dropped to 85 incidents in the first quarter of 2022, making up 48.6% of the property crimes.
Fort Collins, Colo. (55%), and Honolulu (52%) were the only other cities where property crime dropped by more than 50%. Fort Collins also saw a significant drop in larceny/theft — this offense made up 84.0% of the property crimes committed in the first quarter of 2021, which decreased to 77.9% in the first quarter of 2022.
While 35 cities had a decrease in property crime, three cities reported no year-over-year changes, percentage-wise. The North Las Vegas Police Department, which operates in an independent jurisdiction from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, reported just one more property crime than in the first quarter of 2021. Meanwhile, Alexandria, Va., and Surprise, Ariz., reported the same number of property crimes compared to the first quarter of 2021.
Full rankings: Percentage change in property crimes committed between Q1 2021 and Q1 2022
Property crimes, Q1 2022
Property crimes, Q1 2021
Source: ValuePenguin analysis of FBI data
Protecting your personal property: 4 things to know about your home insurance
While property crime rates are down overall, consumers should always be prepared. However, a March 2022 ValuePenguin survey on home insurance misconceptions reveals that 43% of Americans don’t know the extent to which their homeowners or renters insurance covers stolen personal belongings — and even more critically, many are at risk of becoming property crime victims. According to the survey, 78% of Americans don’t have motion sensors outside their home and 38% don’t lock their front door while at home.
ValuePenguin home insurance expert Divya Sangameshwar says consumers should always be informed and prepared for a property crime, particularly when understanding their insurance.
"No one expects to be the victim of a property crime, but if you are, knowing what to expect from your insurance afterward can be a good first step to putting the pieces back together," Sangameshwar says.
Here are four key facts homeowners should know about their personal property coverage:
- Most property crimes are covered on a standard homeowners insurance policy, but it’s largely dependent on where — and what — property was stolen. This is true of theft, vandalism and burglaries. In most cases, your insurance company will reimburse you up to your personal property coverage limit minus your deductible, but most insurance policies will limit the coverage of valuable items and items stolen outside your home, Sangameshwar says. A common amount of coverage is 10% of your total personal property coverage, or $1,000 — whichever is greater.
- You can extend your level of coverage through an endorsement. This additional coverage option is specific to high-value property items. You can choose a fixed endorsement, which is paid by a lump sum, or schedule an appraisal for a more comprehensive endorsement. "Adding an endorsement provides additional flexibility in terms of how much insurance you enjoy — and the location over which your coverage extends," Sangameshwar says. "For high-value items that travel with you, like a $10,000 engagement ring, expanded coverage is a good idea."
- Your insurance company can help you track your home inventory. "Having a home inventory ready on hand will make your claims process smooth and make sure your losses are accurately compensated," Sangameshwar says. "Your insurance company can help you create and keep a comprehensive list." Your home inventory list should include a description of your valuable items, date of purchase, original value and serial numbers.
- From reporting a property crime to police to repairing home damage, proper documentation at every step of the claims process is critical to getting all your expenses covered. Sangameshwar warns that not providing proper documentation can be grounds for a claims denial. "After a property crime occurs, don’t touch anything or clean up until the police have inspected the scene for evidence," Sangameshwar says. "Once the police have written up their report, go into the home to document any property damage." Along with preparing a list of the stolen items for your insurer, Sangameshwar recommends including photos, videos and receipts of the stolen goods. While making any emergency repairs to your home, Sangameshwar recommends keeping a receipt of the expenses incurred so your insurer can reimburse you.
ValuePenguin researchers analyzed 2019 and 2020 FBI crime data at the national level, including by offense type. While the FBI receives reports from thousands of federal, state and county police departments, not all agencies participate yearly. Therefore, the annual property crime data isn’t exhaustive.
Using 2020 data from the Summary Reporting System and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (the latest available), researchers determined the relationship between property crime offenders and victims and the locations where property crimes are most often committed.
To determine which cities saw the biggest percentage change in property crimes, we then compared Quarterly Uniform Crime Report data from the first quarters of 2021 and 2022.