April 20, 2020
After a month in the grip of the COVID-19 crisis, America can so far take a small measure of solace in its crime statistics. Cities across the country are reporting significant drops in arrests, including the pandemic’s epicenter, New York, which reported a 20% decline in its five boroughs and transit system during the March 12-31 period that followed its state of emergency declaration. Chicago also reported a 23% plummet in major crime categories in the first week that followed its stay-at-home order.
This is a logical trend in the short run — when 80 percent of society is self-quarantining in their homes, a drop in incidents such as drunk driving, theft and vandalism would be expected. But authorities worry that it’s only a matter of time before the unnatural pressures that COVID-19 is placing on society could begin carrying ramifications.
Already, police around the country are cracking down on hate crimes and threats against Asian Americans, who are being scapegoated due to the pandemic’s possible origin in China. Cyber crime, online bullying and predatory behavior are rising concerns, due in large part to the extra time young people are spending online. Price gouging has also been a problem, as items like sanitizers, cleaning supplies and surgical masks are at a premium. Neighborhood watch groups warn of an increase in car break-ins across the country.
One of the most disturbing, recent trends, however is the increased number of domestic violence calls. The New York Times reports that in countries such as China and Spain, which suffered the full brunt of COVID-19 earlier than the U.S., data has emerged showing that hotlines were overwhelmed with reports of abuse. Now advocacy groups in America are sounding the alarm and asking for help protecting the victims.
“It is possible that the increase we are seeing in domestic violence calls could be related to the coronavirus,” Geneva County, Alabama Sheriff Tony Helms told The Dothan Eagle. “People are out of work or working less, and more people are at home, and they have a lot on their minds and stress is taking a toll.”
Domestic disputes – a chronically underreported crime in normal times due to the pressures of reporting loved ones – could be extra dangerous at this moment. Because the coronavirus poses a safety issue for victims to even leave the house, they may feel added pressure to stay at home with their abusers or find it impossible to call the police without being overheard.