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The National Crime Rate During COVID-19: Its Ups and Downs

— April 20, 2020

Many crimes are down amid COVID-19 lockdowns, but some crimes may go unreported.

In Chicago, drug arrests amid the coronavirus city-wide shut down have decreased 42% compared to this time last year.  And, this seems to be the trend for the crime rate of many major metropolitan cities.

“The feedback I’m getting is that [dealers] aren’t able to move, to sell anything anywhere,” said Joseph Lopez, a Chicago-based criminal defense attorney.

Overall, the prevalence of serious crimes declined 10%, according to newly released data, including robberies and homicides as well as drug-related activity.  Other crimes in the city, however, such as domestic violence, may have increased.  It’s tough to tell as many of these cases go unreported, according to law enforcement.

New York also saw major crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, burglary, assault, grand larceny and car theft, decrease by 12% from February to March.

“There’s a lot fewer opportunities for criminals to take advantage of,” said Joe Giacalone, a former New York Police Department sergeant. “Most burglars, they wait for you to leave the house.”

The National Crime Rate During COVID-19: Its Ups and Downs
Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

The NYPD, which has more than than 36,000 officers, has more than 7,000 officers currently off-duty and more than 2,000 have been diagnosed with COVID-19.  This means low-level citations are also not being as forcibly addressed, which may be affected the overall crime rate.

“While departments are unlikely to announce they’ve backed off policing certain crimes, that’s going to be the case,” said Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson.  “In many respects, over the next weeks, they’re really in survival mode.”

But while narcotics arrests are down, some believe drug sales will continue.  They’re just not going to change up the game.

“Dealers are likely forced to change their strategies,” said Rodney Phillips, a former gang member in Chicago who now works as a conflict mediator in the city. “These guys already face poverty and death in these areas.  they might be selling more online now.  But they aren’t going to give up just because of the coronavirus.”

Also, certain crimes may be actually exasperated by the virus and spike during this time.  Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the city’s “aggravated assaults were up 10% in the last three weeks, and half of those were domestic violence.”  And Chicago did see an increase gun violence, including sixty shootings and nineteen deaths in a one-week span.

Teresa Sullivan, a supervisory attorney with Legal Aid Chicago, which represents domestic violence survivors, said, “One of the biggest challenges is how to provide remote services to clients at a time when their abusers may be using the virus as a justification for isolating them.” She added, “We anticipate there being escalations and violence and we are trying to make ourselves as available as possible while working remotely to our current clients.”

Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said the resource has adopted internet telephone services to reroute calls to employees working from home.  “We moved our entire operation to remote status without a decrease in operations, which was a brilliant, logistical feat that our team pulled off,” Ray-Jones explained, adding, “This is an opportunity for [victims] to not look like they’re seeking help, but the information is just there for the general public.  We’re also imploring friends, family, neighbors, colleagues to contact the hotline.”  The hope is for those stuck home with abusers to find the courage to reach out.

“The longer we’re in a lockdown,” San Jose, California, Police Chief Eddie Garcia said of the crime rate overall, “the more we’re playing with fire.”


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