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  • Josh Crawford

In the Midst of COVID-19, Don’t Forget About Crime Victims

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, much of the policy attention has focused on the resiliency of our heath care system and economy. The impact of COVID-19 on crime, on our criminal justice system, and on victims is a bit less clear. Police are reducing arrests, but fewer people are out on the streets.

Richard McCleary, a professor of criminology at the University of California-Irvine theorized in a recent interview that criminals “just don’t have as many opportunities. Crime depends on three things; opportunity, motivation and ‘the absence of a capable guardian.’ With so many people hunkered down at home and off the streets, there are fewer easy targets.”

Across the country, his theory seems to be playing out. 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 decreased 30% in March. The New York Police Department reported on April 2 that crime across all five of the city’s boroughs and within the transit system and public housing fell by nearly 20% between March 12 and 31.

Despite these positive trends overall, a few particular crimes are on the rise.

Commercial Burglary

The exception to the recent decline in crime in New York City has been burglaries of businesses. The NYPD has seen a 75% increase in reports of burglaries of businesses since Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency on March 12. The NYPD recorded 254 commercial burglaries from March 12-30th, compared to 145 over the same time period a year ago.

New York is not the only city where this has been the case. In Seattle, burglaries of businesses have nearly doubled over last year during the lockdown period. Boulder, CO saw 30% more commercial burglaries in March than in January and February combined.

Following the logic of Professor McCleary’s theorized three needs for criminal behavior, empty businesses would dramatically increase the opportunity for commercial burglary. For business owners reading this, Security Magazine has a list of suggestions to help protect your business.

Domestic Violence

For several weeks now, advocates both locally and nationally have warned that the country could see a spike in domestic violence if people are stuck at home with their abusers. We are now starting to see this play out as cities begin to release their numbers.

In Fresno, CA, the sheriff’s office reported filing 77% more domestic violence reports the during week of March 16 over the week of March 9. The Seattle Police Department received 614 domestic violence calls in the first two weeks of March, which is a 22% increase over the same period last year.

Additionally, NBC News recently reached out to 22 different law enforcement agencies and found that most are experiencing an increase in domestic violence calls:

Of the 22 law enforcement agencies across the United States that responded to NBC News’ request for data on domestic violence calls, 18 departments said they had seen a rise in March. Houston police received about 300 more domestic violence calls in March than they did in February, a roughly 20 percent increase. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police fielded 517 additional calls about domestic violence in March compared to the same month last year, an 18 percent jump, while Phoenix police received nearly 200 more calls, an increase of nearly 6 percent.

Advocates are also saying that the coronavirus pandemic is changing the way abusers control their victims. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abusers are keeping things like hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap from victims. More than 1,700 people have explicitly cited COVID-19 as an aspect of their experience with abuse, according to a VICE News report.

Kentucky already has an unusually high rate of male on female homicide. According to the Violence Policy Center, Kentucky ranks 11th in nation in male on female homicide, with about 1.77 murders per 100,000 women in the state. Ninety-two percent of the time when a man kills a woman the two are intimate acquaintances. Sixty-two percent of the time the victim is the wife, ex-wife, or girlfriend of the offender.

In Kentucky, our Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence shelters remain open, so those in need of help can still get it.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233

Coronavirus-related scams

Police departments are also beginning to report coronavirus-related scams that include everything from fake testing to theft of personal information under the guise of coronavirus detection.

Here in Louisville, both the FBI and the Attorney General’s office are investigating pop-up “coronavirus testing” tents from last week. The pop-ups claimed to be medical marketing companies with ties to out of state labs that do COVID-19 testing.

Scams related to federal coronavirus relief stimulus checks have also been reported.

What can Kentucky do about it?

Attorney General Daniel Cameron has stepped up in investigating potential scams and also in ensuring that Kentuckians who have been victimized can get the help they need, but more is needed.

An important opportunity lies before the Kentucky General Assembly when they return on April 14. The Kentucky Senate has passed Marsy’s Law, which would put constitutional guarantees of certain rights for crime victims on the ballot. The Kentucky House, which has not approved the measure, ought to give Kentuckians the opportunity to vote again on Marsy’s Law.

We find ourselves in particularly challenging times, but for some Kentuckians they are far more challenging because of criminal activity. In the midst of COVID-19, the General Assembly should not forget about crime victims.

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