Mobile Phones and Crime: The Protective Effect of Mobile Network Infrastructures

  • Patrick FelkaEmail author
  • Cristina Mihale-Wilson
  • Oliver Hinz



In this study, we investigate the relationship between mobile networks and crime by exploiting the temporal and spatial properties of crime and the exogenous occurrence of mobile network outages (MNOs) in San Francisco, (CA) from 5th March 2017 to the 24th March 2018.


We exploit the occurrence of unpredictable and exogenous MNOs to identify how mobile phone usage affects crime. Further, we make use of established macro-level determinants such as weather conditions (temperature, precipitations), public holidays and events, to isolate and quantify how MNOs impact the total amount of crime, violent and property crime, as well other individual major crime categories such as robbery, burglary, theft, vehicle break-ins.


Based on the results of our empirical analysis, we confirm a statistically significant but complex relationship between mobile phone usage and crime. The complexity of this relationship is due to the fact that, depending on the area under investigation (i.e., very dangerous districts vs. zip code areas with rather moderate levels of crime), the crime type assessed (i.e., violent versus property crime), or the coincidence of MNOs with events, the MNOs can sometimes foster and sometimes discourage crime.


This study highlights the necessity of extending the study of crime with a technological dimension of other emerging technologies (e.g., augmented reality and location-based mobile games) on crime. Further, it supports the notion that (1) the maintenance of mobile network infrastructures might be a matter of public interest; and (2) in some cases, mobile phones can be a useful and cost-effective crime reduction measure which is worth to be considered in the process of extending the government's catalog of crime countermeasures.


Crime Mobile networks outages Cell phones Protective effect 



This work has been co-funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of project C5 within the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 1053 -- MAKI.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Felka
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cristina Mihale-Wilson
    • 1
  • Oliver Hinz
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Economics and Business AdministrationGoethe University FrankfurtFrankfurtGermany

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