Crime is Down Amid the Pandemic, But That’s Not the Whole Story

The White House says it plans to send federal agents to major American cities across the country, including Chicago, Albuquerque, and even Kansas City amid what it sees as rising crime, shootings, and killings. The president denies that the move has anything to do with recent protests, including those supported by Black Lives Matter, but it paints a dark narrative of a country descending into chaos.

However, recent statistics reveal that overall, crime is actually going down over the course of the pandemic, even with millions still out of work and on unemployment. Yet, shootings and murders are up in several major cities.

Let’s examine these recent statistics to find out how the pandemic has affected public safety.

How Crime Has Changed

The coronavirus has halted life in various ways. Many people are no longer commuting to work, going out in public, or traveling to new destinations. Having fewer people on the streets reduces the number of violent crimes. There simply aren’t as many people around to take advantage of.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania known as City Crime Stats tracks criminal behavior in over 25 major American cities across the country. Statistics show that Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Chicago have all seen a drop in crime of more than 30%. Aggravated assaults and robberies are down substantially, as well. Drug-related crimes have also dropped by around 60%.

Many people are sheltering in place. They are now more likely to be home than out and about, which can be a big deterrent for criminals.

9-1-1 calls seem to be down across the board as well. We’re seeing fewer traffic incidents, domestic disturbances, and home invasions, but a surge in the number of people suffering from stroke or heart attack at home. Amid the pandemic, emergency calls seem to be more related to healthcare than violent crime.

What About Murder?

However, shootings and murders are slightly up in several key areas, including Chicago, Houston, Cincinnati and Fresno, CA.

Public policy experts and sociologists aren’t sure why the homicide rate doesn’t seem to have changed substantially since the start of the pandemic, compared to recent years, and it’s not clear why they continue while other types of crimes decrease.

Murder accounts for around 1% of violent crimes in these cities; some of these incidents may have been the result of despair, desperation, or a sense of hopelessness. Forcing people to stay at home can also inflame tensions, especially if a person is living with an abusive partner or family member.

How Policing Has Changed

We’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about and evaluating our approach to law enforcement in this country. Recent protests have shifted the focus to police brutality and systemic racism. Calls to defund the police have spread across the country as communities and citizens look for other ways to maintain public safety.

Some experts tracking these trends say it would be a mistake to think that crime is down. They say these statistics are based on the number of arrests, not reports to the police.

Local police departments have a lot on their plates these days. They may be spending more time maintaining social distancing, breaking up large groups, securing small businesses looking to reopen to the public, and protecting government property than responding to local calls.

Calls to defund the police may have backfired in some communities, particularly those of color. The police may not respond to a call if they think the local population wants to cut funding from the department. Many citizens of Chicago and other hard-hit areas report rampant crime, including neighborhood shootings, suspicious noises, and the sound of gunfire. Some residents, including persons of color, say they feel neglected by the police.

The Bottom Line

When looking at crime across the country, it is often a mixed bag. Crime trends appear to change on a dime as cities lift restrictions and change their approaches to policing. NYC recently saw a spike in burglaries, shootings, and murders after months of limited criminal activity.

Crime rates usually depend on a range of factors, including the environment in question, how far along they are in the reopening process, and the rate of homelessness and poverty.

Three things are needed for a crime to occur:

  • Motive
  • Opportunity
  • Lack of Enforcement

If citizens need food, money, or housing, they will be more likely to commit a crime if the opportunity arises and they feel like no one’s looking.

Experts also warn of an uptick in crime once the enhanced unemployment benefits run out at the end of July. Without an extra $600 a week, many people may be forced out on to the streets, including women and children.

This is a reminder that meeting people’s basic needs is often a better way to prevent crime than having armed officers patrolling the streets. If everyone had a place to ride out the pandemic, access to food and clean water, and medical care, we would likely see crime decrease substantially across the board.

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