Crime and COVID-19 – How the Coronavirus Pandemic Has and Will Affect Crime

By Tyler Moses, Staff Editor

Countries around the world are struggling to adjust to life with the COVID-19, the pandemic that has unapologetically altered the infrastructure of nearly every society. In the United States, the healthcare industry struggles to adjust to supply shortages and hospital capacity issues. The stock market has gradually plummeted, as much of the country issued stay-at-home orders and asked that only “essential businesses” remain open.[1] As more and more people lose their jobs, authorities become increasingly concerned with financial stresses leading to subsequent increases in crime.[2]

When looking at crime rates from the first several weeks of social distancing guidelines in the United States, states have generally seen a reduction in crime.[3] Certain experts claim that this is likely due to would-be criminals having fewer opportunities to commit crimes, as fewer people are leaving the confines of their homes.[4] Police departments across the United States reported decreases in a multitude of different crimes when comparing with the same time period from 2019.[5] When taken against an average of the same weeks in the previous three years, cities like San Francisco, Detroit, and Los Angeles have seen crime drop to forty-two percent, twenty-two percent, and nineteen percent respectively.[6] When examining the reduction in particular crimes, Los Angeles witnessed at least a ten percent reduction in thefts, aggravated assaults, robberies, and homicides.[7]

While reports seemingly reflect a decrease in certain crimes over the first few weeks of mandatory shutdowns in the United States, other crimes appear to have been more prevalent in several jurisdictions.[8] A primary concern among authorities that the stress-related circumstances resulting from the pandemic will incite increases in hate crimes.[9] While there don’t appear to be statistics in terms of percentage increase or decrease, there have been numerous reports of hate crimes related to COVID-19.[10] One account of a subway passenger in New York reported getting sprayed with Febreze and verbally attacked for being of Asian ethnicity.[11] The crime rate for vehicle thefts also increased in certain areas of the country.[12] Los Angeles in particular observed a ten percent increase in vehicle thefts this March in comparison with the same time period in 2019.[13]

While certain areas of criminal activity witnessed an almost instantaneous shift in crime rate, experts hypothesize that the pandemic will unveil more issues with domestic violence and fraud-related crimes in the coming months.[14] Authorities are concerned about the increased potential for domestic violence cases due to the increased amount of time spent at home.[15] Experts are also concerned with the potential for fraud-related crimes becoming more problematic.[16]There is an expectation that scammers will be more likely to intensify activity as more people will be on the internet and checking email.[17] For example, outside of the United States, the United Kingdom reported fraudulent losses of more than one million dollars resulting from over one hundred virus-related scams in the last month.[18] Additionally, another possible cause for concern is that with more and more people losing their access to income through furloughs or losing their jobs, many may ultimately be forced to turn to criminal activity in dire financial situations.

The impact and long-term effects of how COVID-19 will impact crime rates in the United States can only be theorized for now. At least initially, police departments across the United States are relinquishing control over lower-level crimes and asking their officers to reduce the number of arrests for those types of offenses.[19] The fluctuations in crime rates will likely ebb and flow over the coming months as the pandemic continues to affect the infrastructure of countless industries. Only time will tell how the criminal justice system will respond to an influx of crimes spawning as a result of the pandemic.

 

 

 

[1] Scottie Andrew, What Constitutes ‘Essential Businesses’? States Seem to Have Varying Standards, CNN (Mar. 26, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/25/business/essential-businesses-states-coronavirus-trnd/index.html.

[2] Devon Haynie, Crime Hasn’t Spiked During COVID-19 Outbreak – Yet, U.S. News (Mar. 30, 2020), https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2020-03-30/coronavirus-quarantines-spark-drop-in-crime-for-now.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Simone Weichselbaum & Weihua Li, As Coronavirus Surges, Crime Declines in Some Cities, Marshall Project (Mar. 27, 2020), https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/03/27/as-coronavirus-surges-crime-declines-in-some-cities.

[7] See Ben Poston, Crime Falls Sharply in March Due to Coronavirus Restrictions, LAPD and Sheriff Report, L.A. Times (Mar. 27, 2020), https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-03-27/coronavirus-crime-lapd-reports-drop-march.

[8] See Poston, supra note 5.

[9] Coronavirus-related Crimes are on the Rise, Market Watch (Mar. 26, 2020), https://www.marketwatch.com/story/coronavirus-related-crimes-are-on-the-rise-2020-03-25.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See Poston, supra note 5.

[13] Id.

[14] Haynie, supra note 2.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Coronavirus-related Crimes are on the Rise, supra note 7.

[19] Weichselbaum & Li, supra note 4.

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