There have been a lot of changes in 2020, thanks largely to COVID-19. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has affected the economy, travel, and even crime rates. People are staying home more than usual, they’re wearing masks when they go outside, and many people aren’t working. Because of so many shutdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many people have lost jobs. All of these factors have affected crime rates, but the relationship may not be as straightforward as you thought.
We’re taking a look at what crime rates have looked like over the past few months of 2020 in relation to COVID-19 to see if there are patterns or changes from previous years. We’ll also take a closer look at different types of crimes to see if those rates are higher or lower than previous years.
Has crime increased due to COVID?
Overall, crime in the United States is down in 2020. University of Pennsylvania Professor David S. Abrams conducted a study of crime rates in 2020 in major U.S. cities and found that, in general, reported crimes dropped by 20% in major cities during the first few months of the pandemic. However, gun violence is up, though it’s not being attributed to the novel coronavirus. Professor Abrams noted, though, that the crime rates started to fall even before the stay-at-home orders were issued.
Property crime and break ins:
Home break-ins largely slowed down when the pandemic hit, according to Abrams’ study, because people were always home. However, commercial break-ins rose because many businesses were unattended. Abrams noted that commercial burglaries were up 37%, but Philadelphia saw the steepest decline in residential break-ins.
Conversely, car thefts skyrocketed in Philadelphia as well as other major cities like Austin, Denver and Los Angeles. Abrams attributed it to people not using their cars as often, thus leaving them out in the open without checking on them as frequently.
Some violent crimes have seen an uptick in the past few months, though experts aren’t specifically tying it to COVID-19. The New York Times published a report in August discussing shootings in the city, and though shootings were up over last year, police reports did not tie it to COVID-19 at all. New York’s shootings, specifically, were up “72 percent over the same period last year and murders rose 30 percent, even as reports of other violent crimes like rape, assault and robbery fell.” The report also noted that shootings were up in all major cities, and much of it was due to the season — shootings generally rise in summer — and the drop in arrests due to gun crime.
However, other violent crimes have seen a decrease this year, as The New York Times reported. Not only have NYC’s rape and robbery rates fallen, but the same trend has happened nationwide. Abrams’s study found that violent crimes, overall, have decreased about 19%. But he also noted that these are reported crimes and not all crimes are being reported during this pandemic.
One form of crime that has not seen a drop during the pandemic is domestic violence. It has actually seen a steep increase, due to people being under lockdown. Several reports from hospitals nationwide have concluded that there has been a significant rise in abuse cases. One report from a Boston hospital saw 26 cases attributed to possible domestic violence in a nine-week period, which was about double the same time period in 2019 and 2018. The study, which was shared by WebMD, also noted, “Five victims of severe abuse were identified in 2020, compared to one in each of the three previous years.”
Have mask mandates caused an increase in business theft?
While it’s hard to pinpoint whether the mask mandates in various cities have directly led to an increase in business thefts, it does appear that the masks have emboldened thieves. WTOP reported a few months ago that that was exactly the trend they and their experts had been seeing. WTOP’s report spoke to Bryanna Fox, associate professor of criminology and former FBI agent who said, “Being anonymized has always been associated with more deviant and criminal behavior.”
A local police department in New York had similar thoughts, that because masks are the norm, criminals are taking advantage. The Amsterdam, NY, police, at the time, were investigating a string of crimes tied to those hiding behind masks at stores.
While some reported crime rates have fallen during the pandemic, others have not. Burglaries are largely down, as are most violent crimes, but shootings are up significantly. However, the increase in shootings is not being attributed directly to COVID-19. The crimes most closely tied to COVID-19 are domestic violence offenses due to people being locked up at home with abusive partners. If you’re worried about your own safety or the safety of a loved one, you can find resources for domestic support at TheHotline.org or by calling 1.800.799.7233. Additional resources are accessible through the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.