How the COVID Pandemic Affected Crime
The COVID pandemic changed the way that people lived their daily lives. Working from home, shopping online, and catching up with family via videoconferencing became the norm for many people.
But what effect did the coronavirus crisis have on crime? Was it business as usual for the criminal elements of society? Or did the thieves, scammers, and perpetrators of violence rein in their activities, too?
Here’s a summary of how the covid pandemic affected crime.
Overall Crime Fell
In the first month of lockdown, the overall crime fell sharply. An Econofact study of crime statistics across major US cities found that, on average, overall incidences of crime dropped by 23% in that first week.
Overall, crime rates continued to remain lower than usual. However, it wasn’t all good news. While crime fell overall, homicides and shootings increased. And, as the pandemic continued, criminals began to find new ways to scam the stay-at-home population via the internet.
Crime Reduced In Line with Restrictions on Mobility
The reductions in crime generally coincide with the restrictions on mobility caused by the pandemic. The reason for that is relatively straightforward. When stay-at-home orders were in place, fewer people were on the streets, hence less crime.
Interestingly, the decreased mobility and corresponding drop in crime occurred before the stay-in-place orders were issued. This pre-emptive change in behavior could have been caused by people anticipating that such measures would be taken or people’s concern about catching the virus.
Since the stay-in-place orders have been lifted, overall mobility levels have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. This delay is probably caused by people’s continued reluctance to use public transit systems, visit crowded venues, and return to work.
Drug-Related Crimes Dropped Significantly
According to crime statistics, drug crimes plummeted by 65% at the height of the pandemic. However, crime stats are based on police-reported incidents. So, it is most likely that the drop in drug crimes was due to changes in policing rather than significant changes to illegal drug use. However, it can only be assumed that stay-at-home orders and fewer people on the streets would have impeded the activity of drug dealers.
During the pandemic, some police forces also changed the emphasis on specific crimes, which would have impacted arrests and the crime statistics. For example, arrests for low-level crime were reduced in some areas to minimize the risk of prison overcrowding. And some police resources would have been relocated to enforce COVID restrictions.
Violent Crime Increased
Some headlines have claimed that crime fell during the pandemic. However, the good news about overall crime rates masked a rise in violent crime. There were, in fact, significant increases in shootings and homicides. Aggravated assaults also increased.
Why violent crime increased during the pandemic is still being debated. The increase might have been due to pent-up anger at the COVID restrictions or people forced to be under the same roof for extended periods.
The George Floyd protests, which occurred in the same period, may have also impacted the crime statistics. And of course, it is also likely that those involved in violent crime would not be concerned about following stay-at-home orders or social distancing.
Home Burglaries Dropped
Home burglaries dropped by almost 25% during the pandemic. That crime statistic is probably not surprising given that so many people were staying at home. Other crimes that dropped in numbers included sexual assault, which fell by 23%, and theft, which fell by 27%.
It is impossible to be confident about what drove the changes in criminal behavior during the pandemic. And some of the changes will have been caused by changes in policing. However, we can be reasonably sure that the reduction in mobility accounted for many of the changes. And more people staying at home would certainly have deterred burglars.
Non-Residential Property Burglaries and Car Theft Increased
On the flip side to the drop in home burglaries, car theft and non-residential property burglaries increased significantly.
During the lockdown, offices were empty, bars and restaurants were closed, as were many other types of businesses. So, these vacant business premises provided tempting targets for burglars. And, with fewer people going to work, some commercial districts were virtually deserted, making life easier for the burglars.
The increase in car theft can also be attributed to people’s changed habits. More cars were left unattended for long periods, making them a target for thieves. In some cities, car thefts increased by more than twofold.
Online Scams Rose by More Than 25%
According to a study published by comparitch.com, online scams rose 25 percent in the US during the pandemic. And that increases occurred across various scams, including Identity theft, online shopping, healthcare, and employment and business-related scams.
In addition to the usual online scams, criminals also tried to benefit directly from the pandemic. Specific COVID cons included fake vaccines trials, work from home scams, and counterfeit vaccines and cures.
So, the COVID pandemic did significantly impact crime. And most crimes fell considerably at the height of the crisis.
However, violent crimes, including shootings and homicide, increased. Indeed, 2020 saw one of the most significant increases in homicides for a long time. That upward trend continues in 2021. And, presumably, other types of crimes will rapidly return to exceed previous levels now that people are back on the streets and at work again.