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Image via Shutterstock

Global crises historically have ushered in reductions in crime; the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Great Depression of 1929, and the Great Recession of 2008 all saw dips in illegal activity. 

The coronavirus crisis has caused a steep drop in major crimes across many American cities, providing a rare upside to the pandemic. 

“The dynamics of street crimes, of street encounters, of human behavior are changing because people are staying home,” Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University and a former police officer, told the New York Times.

The Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum found that residential burglaries and property crimes declined dramatically, according to statistics from 30 large and midsize cities and counties. Of the 30 jurisdictions, 25 saw drops between March 16 and April 12. Baltimore had a 43 percent decrease, Washington saw a 36 percent drop, and San Francisco had a 46 percent decrease. Larcenies fell in the majority of the jurisdictions—28 out of the 30—according to the think tank’s data.

Overall, the jurisdictions surveyed saw a combined 23 percent decline in property crime, and an 11.5 percent decrease in violent crime, the Washington Post reported.

Contributing to the dip in crime rates are the changing protocols at many police departments, including a reduction in arrests for nonviolent crimes in order to avoid filling jails, which are at risk of becoming hot spots for coronavirus infection due to close living quarters and sanitation limitations. In Chicago, where Cook County jail became notorious for infections, arrests plummeted 73 percent in the initial month of lockdown, Deputy Chief Thomas Lemmer told the New York Times.

Global crises historically have ushered in reductions in crime; the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Great Depression of 1929, and the Great Recession of 2008 all saw dips in illegal activity. 

The picture is not all positive. Homicides, burglaries of commercial properties, and auto thefts have risen in many cities. Domestic violence and child abuse calls are down, but experts worry that cases are simply going unreported as teachers and other advocates have less opportunity to spot indicators, such as bruises.

Experts speculate some perpetrators have been emboldened by fewer witnesses.

And, police brutality has garnered national attention once again following the fatal arrest of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis and the police killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in Louisville. 

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The forum reported mixed numbers for homicides, with more deaths in nine cities, decreased deaths in nine cities, and no change in 12 cities.

From mid-April to mid-May, most major crimes had decreased in New York City by 21 percent from the same period last year, but the murder rate was unchanged, burglaries were up, and car thefts increased by almost 68 percent, the Times reported.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the research forum, told the Washington Post that he and other police chiefs think “the pandemic has not dramatically altered traditional patterns of gang warfare, drug-related violence, and individuals using guns to settle personal disputes.”

“These serious, deeply entrenched problems continue to drive much of the violence in our communities,” Wexler said.