Sunday Murders, Morning Bike Thefts: The Data On When Crimes Occur

In Colombia, killings happen more often on Sundays. Most big city crimes in the U.S. happen during the day, though violence is a night-time thing. Weekends account for more than half of illegal acts in Cape Town, South Africa. A global glimpse at the "when" of crime.

photo of a police car at night

We see patterns that both meet and defy expectations

Alidad Vassigh

BOGOTÁ — They call it the "criminal clock." The Colombian NGO Excellence in Justice Corporation (Corporación excelencia en la justicia, CEJ) recently published a study of or the hours of the day and days of the week when different types of crimes happen.

Some of the findings might not surprise: murder is an evening crime, though it occurs disproportionately on Sunday. Meanwhile, Colombian thieves are busiest in the mornings. Elsewhere in the world, we also see patterns that both meet and defy expectations.

Gathering both police and court data for the first eight months of 2021, the Bogota-based organization found that certain crimes are more likely to happen at night, and others during daylight hours. The aim was to "determine the pattern of criminal conduct" as intelligence for the police, says CEJ's director Hernando Herrera.

Cell phones stolen later

The statistics showed just over 16,850 personal thefts in the eight-month period, 30% of which happened between 6 a.m. and noon — though cell phones were stolen more often between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. However one-fourth of all burglaries (85 a day in Colombia) happened between midnight and 4 a.m.

Just over 32% of all motorbike thefts happened between six and 11 p.m., while bicycles have tended to be stolen in the morning (20% between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.).

Out of 9,185 homicides reported for the eight-month period (38 a day, up from 31 for those months in 2020), 40% happened between 6 p.m. and midnight, and more often on Sunday (55%).

A police officer in Santiago, Chile

Matias Basualdo/ZUMA

Criminal hours in Mexico and U.S.

CEJ also counted just over 78,400 cases of "domestic violence." Of these, 27% happened between midnight and one a.m. (after dinner), and 15% around breakfast time (8 -11 a.m.). The figures showed a slight increase in these of just over 1% from 2020, though no figures were given for 2019, the year before the pandemic that entailed weeks of confinement in many big cities.

Colombia's figures show similarities and differences compared to patterns elsewhere. Reports from 2019 indicated that crime in big cities in the United States was more likely to take place during the day, though more serious violent acts like murder, assault and rape were concentrated in the evening.

Police reports from Chile have shown a similar pattern to killings in Colombia's: more often on Sunday, and in the hours after midnight.

In Mexico City, a report from 2018 found the 11 p.m.-midnight slots to be the choice hour for killings, though most firearm injuries had reportedly happened between seven and eight in the morning. Another report from 2020, put the murder hours in that megalopolis at between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Cape Town's dangerous weekends

Globally, data on the "when" of crime is rather limited. National statistics tend to focus more on location, demographics and other factors driving lawlessness. Still, some localities have made a point of tracking the crime clock. In Cape Town, South Africa, stats gathered in 2018 show that more deaths occur on weekends than during the working week.

Provincial police commissioner, Khombinkosi Jula said that 53% of deaths happen on Saturday or Sunday, with 47% on the other five days of the week. This percentage was culled from statistics on the primary motives for murder in the Cape province: gang-related crimes account for 22% of deaths, robberies account for 8.1%, domestic violence for 5.1%, taxi violence for 2.1%, and arguments (that turn violent) for 13.2%.

The limited data notwithstanding, one can surmise that the when of a crime is also linked to the why.

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