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Are Coronavirus Lockdowns Reducing Crime?

Posted on behalf of Donahue & Walsh, P.C. | April 23, 2020

Nothing seems normal these days as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to turn the lives of millions of people in the United States and millions more around the world upside down. Our criminal justice system has not been immune. Most jurisdictions have suspended court proceedings and even some have released inmates early in an effort to avoid creating hot spots for the virus in the cramped quarters of jails and prisons.

Another question has risen to the surface while much of the nation is under state orders to shelter in place: is the lack of people on the streets resulting in less crime?

One possible answer can be found in Baton Rouge. The capitol of Louisiana – one of the nation’s most active COVID-19 hotspots – has experienced a plummeting crime rate as residents stay home. The local police department reports that service calls are down as much as 20%. The lack of vehicle traffic has been a driving factor. However, property crimes such as burglaries are also down. One theory is that the large number of people working from home has resulted in fewer empty homes for burglars to target.

The story is different 1,100 miles north in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit had been experiencing a violent year prior to the outbreak. Violent crime alone was up 13% compared to the same time period in 2019. The coronavirus seems to have slowed things down somewhat from earlier this year, but violent crime is still up 5% compares to this time in 2019.

Here in McHenry County, felony charges have dropped since the Governors stay at home order was put in effect. From February 3 and March 20, prior to the Illinois stay at home order,  the state’s attorney’s office charged on average 3.5 felonies per day.  The number of felony charged filed between March 21 and April 7 dropped by 50% to 1.7 felonies charged per day.  Similarly, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally stated the average number of domestic battery charges being filed dropped from 1.3 a day between Feb. 3 and March 20 to 0.9 filed per day between March 21 and April 7.

A different type of crime has emerged as a result of the fallout from the coronavirus. The FBI recently warned the public that they have uncovered criminal activity ranging from “sham treatments and vaccines to bogus investment opportunities in non-existent medical companies”.

Time will be the ultimate arbiter of what the coronavirus means for crime rates, incarceration rates, and more. In the meantime it’s important for people to take steps to stay safe in every way, including frequent hand washing, social distancing, and being vigilant.

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