Anecdotal evidence and data from limited sample sizes suggest that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. – which has led to widespread self-quarantines, shut businesses and stay-at-home orders – has led to a significant decline in most crimes.
The New York Police Department said on Wednesday that crime in the city dropped last week by nearly 17% versus the same week last year, with shootings down 23.5%, rapes down 69% and assaults down 9%.
Crimes committed in the subway, which had been increasing prior to the pandemic, nonetheless plunged 33% last week compared to the year before.
But thefts are rising, particularly auto thefts, up by 52%.
Even Philadelphia, a city that has been awash in violence for many years, has witnessed a decline in crime, including burglaries.
The Philadelphia Police Department said on Wednesday that violent crime dropped by 6% and property crime fell 14% during the past month.
However, with so many guns prevalent, the number of shooting victims has risen 22%.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw also denied that police are ignoring minor crimes.
“Persons who commit certain nonviolent offenses will be arrested at the scene. Once their identity has been confirmed, they will be released and processed via arrest warrant,” Outlaw said. “Officers will use discretion on how a person is processed,” she said.
Several police departments in the city and surrounding area reported sharp falls in violent crime, property crime and residential and commercial burglaries from the end of February through mid-March.
“Police officers have not lessened the patrols, we are out there to hold the line,” said Police Chief David Harkins of Gloucester Township, N.J., just across the river from Philadelphia.
On streets that are nearly empty police can spot criminals easier.
“The officers are able to check some of those vehicles out and I think there is some deterrence value in that,” Harkins added.
However, tensions may be rising among couples and families who are cooped up inside all day — Gloucester Township has recorded an increase in domestic disputes.
“Parents are being tasked with things they don’t normally have to do, it adds to the stress level of people and the unknown,” said Chief Harkins.
Across the country, officials in Los Angeles County also said local crimes rates have declined.
“We took a pulse of the overall county crime numbers yesterday, and it was for violent crimes…a 10% drop [year-to-date] and for overall crime throughout the county it was a 6% drop,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday. “The arrest numbers have gone down quite substantially.”
But Villanueva is worried about a potential rise in domestic strife.
“We’re going to have a concern about domestic violence, so many people living in cramped, closed quarters with nothing to do and nowhere to go, that will be a challenge,” Villanueva said.
The Los Angeles Police Department also reported a drop in crime, as has the town of Pasadena.
“Right now, like other cities, we are seeing less crime. But we take into consideration that a lot of businesses, schools and restaurants are closed down and people are staying at home and looking out for each other,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian.
Los Angeles police reported 14% fewer arrests in the first half of March versus the same period in 2019, said LAPD Public Information Director Josh Rubenstein. Burglary has fallen 16% year-to-date compared to 2019, while personal theft has declined 15%, he added.
“That would make sense because people are home right now, so those property thefts are down,” Rubenstein said.
Overall, arrests by LAPD are down 5% year-to-date and violent crimes are down 4%.
However, homicides are rising.
“When it comes to violent crime, again, that’s something that we’re always looking at, and I’m not sure this particular [coronavirus] crisis that the city is going through directly correlates to any [crime] numbers we have,” Rubenstein said.
Both the sheriff’s department and LAPD have upgraded patrols in the proximity of closed businesses to discourage possible looting and vandalism.
In Chicago – under the auspices of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order from last weekend – crime has also declined.
Police records from last week showed that murders, shootings, burglaries and sexual assaults have all fallen. Only car thefts increased.
“We can’t specifically say the crime rate is effected by the coronavirus but obviously what we know going back many years and looking at data is that when large congregations of people are outside in neighborhoods where gun violence is prevalent that increases the risk,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
Still, on a year-to-date basis, the carnage in Chicago continues.
“It’s no secret that we had a difficult first two months of the year with gun violence – homicides and shootings,” said Chicago Police Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck. “This month [March] we have seen that decline. I think it’s way too soon to ascribe that to any one particular thing but we have seen a declination.”
Indiana State Police also said they are “seeing fewer arrests due to isolation.”
“We are seeing less crime right now. The focus has shifted. [People are] taking care of themselves and not going out and committing crimes,” Sgt. Matt Ames said.
Richard McCleary, professor of criminology at the University of California-Irvine, predicted that with fewer opportunities to commit crimes and violence (few empty houses, closed stores with alarms, etc.) burglaries, street crimes, larceny and aggravated assault will continue to drop.
Ironically, as more people lose their jobs, they might become more motivated to steal – but the opportunities to do will not be available.
“In general, I would bet that the opportunity for crime will decline but the motivation for crime will increase,” said James Lynch, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland. “Some of this will depend on the effectiveness of remedial measures in terms of income stability. The more effective these measures the lower the increase in motivation.”