As a former prosecutor, I wondered how the Coronavirus might impact crime. There are fewer folks on the streets. One might assume that crime would be down. There’s good news and also bad news on the crime front.
In major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, major crime drops occurred in recent weeks. In Los Angeles, from February 23 to March 2, the city saw a 25% drop in folks being shot. After March 17, New York city saw a 17% drop in violent crimes. Likewise, Chicago saw a 17% drop in violent crimes during the week of March 16- 22. Despite the drop, Chicago still saw 12 persons shot during this past week. All were shot outside despite Chicago’s stay in place order.
The stay at home orders will see a rise in other criminal activity. With the president preferring to name the Coronavirus or Covid-19 as the China flu, cities have seen attacks on Asian Americans or on those thought to be of Asian descent.
There will likely be an increase in domestic violence and child abuse cases as a result of families remaining under one roof for 24 hours a day—for weeks on end. Home is not a safe place for everyone. Many families are dysfunctional. And for abused spouses or partners, they may likely have no place to go. Domestic shelters are still an option.
With children and teens home all day, the FBI warns of an increase in cyber-crimes focusing on children and teens. Child sex offenders may attempt to receive sexual photos and attempt in person meetings once the stay at home is lifted. During this time, parents must be vigilant in checking computer activity to help keep teens and children safe. If any suspicious activity is discovered, parents should report to the FBI tip hotline.
Seniors are also at increased risk of cyber -crimes during the crisis. The Coronavirus and cyber crimes are an almost perfect storm. Criminals are capitalizing on growing fears over the coronavirus, in an effort to cause victims to download malware. The malware will enable the criminals to control the victim’s computer. Activity of this type started in Japan.
The Federal Trade Commission advises to hang up on robocalls; don’t respond to Emails about checks from the government; don’t click on Emails claiming to be the Center for Disease Control—instead go to their website for any information; buyer be aware when buying from online vendors claiming to have cleaning and sanitary products.
Unfortunately, in these stressful times, crime doesn’t stop. It may alter its behavior. Those most vulnerable or at risk are children, teens and seniors.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former MD Assistant Attorney General.