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Some crimes decrease during lockdown

by Democrat-Gazette staff and wire reports | March 31, 2020 at 4:20 a.m. | Updated March 30, 2020 at 4:20 a.m.

With more than two-thirds of the U.S. population ordered to stay home amid the coronavirus pandemic, it's tougher for burglars to find an empty house to steal from. But the cooped-up residents seem more likely to fight each other.

That's what crime statistics show in major U.S. cities where residents are spending almost all their time inside.

In Los Angeles, property crime was down 18% in the four weeks that ended March 21 from the previous four weeks. Calls for police services in Chicago have declined 30% for the month and crime in New York City fell almost 25% in the week ended March 22, compared with the week before.

The rapidly spreading infections from the coronavirus, with New York City currently the epicenter, have most Americans hunkering down. About 217 million people in at least 23 states, 17 cities and one territory were being urged to stay home as of Friday.

In Los Angeles, the number of burglaries and theft from motor vehicles, the most prevalent crime in the car-loving city, was down 24%. In areas such as Hollywood, car break-ins fell more than 40%, according to police. Burglaries dropped almost 20% in New York and rapes were down by more than half; there was one murder, compared with eight in the previous week.

The changes in violent crime were less pronounced in other cities.

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In Chicago, there's been a significant reduction in vehicle and pedestrian stops by police, Charlie Beck, the city's interim police superintendent, said at a news conference last week.

"All of this indicates to me that people are doing what we ask," Beck said. "That they are staying home, that they are by and large creating good social distance, that our police officers are only focusing on things that have a direct impact on public safety and making sure that we all get through this together."

Meanwhile, Seattle police got 614 domestic violence calls in the first two weeks of March, a 22% increase from a year earlier.

"The vast majority were for a DV disturbance, which means there is no arrest because it was just an argument where the police ended up responding," Detective Patrick Michaud of the Seattle police department said in an email, referring to domestic violence calls. "No assault. No property damage. No additional crime. Just an argument."

Los Angeles-based lawyer Lisa Bloom said she's received dozens of calls in recent weeks from women who have been in violent confrontations with their boyfriends or husbands.

"And they are all coronavirus-related," Bloom said in a phone interview.

In some instances, fights between couples erupted over the state's stay-at-home order, with people allowed to leave their homes only for essential errands or exercise. Last week, Bloom said, she got a restraining order for a woman who was beaten up by her partner after she complained he was going out for hours.


Locally, unofficial numbers from police departments do not rule out the possibility that social-distancing measures may have suppressed crime.

The Little Rock Police Department has recorded a slight drop of about 10% in the number of crimes in March compared with the same time frame last year, said spokesman Eric Barnes, although he acknowledged that it's difficult to get accurate numbers at this point.

Data provided by Barnes show that although some categories of violent crime such as homicide and robbery have increased, property crimes like larceny have decreased. "This is hard to say it's the result of covid-19, but we are monitoring records since the start of the epidemic," Barnes wrote in an email.

A North Little Rock police spokeswoman, Sgt. Amy Cooper, said the department has seen a "slight" decrease in the number of calls for service since mid-March, when social distancing measures began. Quantitative crime statistics for March have not yet been calculated, Cooper said.

A spokesman for the Pulaski County sheriff's office did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Monday.

In Jefferson County, sheriff's deputies saw a marked drop in the number of traffic stops from February 2020 to March 2020, from 222 traffic stops in February to just 107 in March, according to dispatch documents obtained from the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association, which handles all dispatching duties in the county. Domestic disturbance calls, on the other hand, rose from 22 in February to 40 in March.

Pine Bluff police officers also had a decline in traffic stops, although not as sharp, logging 209 stops in February compared with 146 stops in March.

Other types of crime showed some decrease in Pine Bluff as well, based on the number of calls logged each month. Breaking or entering calls dropped from 31 in February to 10 in March, burglary calls dropped from 63 in February to 52 in March, and criminal mischief calls dropped from 78 in February to 69 in March.

Domestic disturbances showed only a small increase, from 243 calls in February to 259 calls in March that were answered by city police. Calls for gunshots in the area rose from 95 in February to 122 in March, and noise complaints rose from 26 in February to 72 in March. Sexual assault/rape calls rose from three in February to five in March, calls reporting shootings stayed the same at three, and calls for stabbing rose from one call in February to five in March.

Auto theft calls rose from 16 in February to 26 in March.

In White Hall, traffic stops decreased from 269 in February to 176 in March, and domestic disturbance calls decreased from eight calls in February to five in March. Auto theft calls decreased from four in February to one in March. Calls reporting a prowler rose from one in February to five in March.

Fort Smith Police Department spokesman Aric Mitchell said there was a "slight uptick" in the number of reports between February and March, but said the rise "is not unusual for this time of year as temperatures warm up."

Information for this article was contributed by Edvard Pettersson, Noah Buhayar, Michelle Kaske and Mallika Mitra of Bloomberg News; and by Dale Ellis, Joseph Flaherty and Thomas Saccente of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 03/31/2020

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