Falling crime rates in big US cities during coronavirus lockdowns due to lack of 'opportunities', expert says

Crime in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco fell as much as 42 percent but crime expert Hadar Aviram told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) we may see a spike in cybercrime

Falling crime rates in big US cities during coronavirus lockdowns due to lack of 'opportunities', expert says
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Although police in the United States had predicted a possible spike in crime rates after they were forced to reduce low-level arrests and release inmates from jails to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some of the big cities in the nation saw a sharp decline in crime rates due to the shelter-in-place and social distancing orders enforced by both federal and state governments. 

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According to a recent report by the Marshall Project - a non-profit journalism organization for criminal justice reform - graphs drawn up to compare crime rates from the last few weeks to the same time period from the previous three years showed a significant reduction in crime rates across cities like Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. 

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The survey took into account a time period between February 23 and March. While the crime rate held steady till around March 15 for most of these states, it was suddenly followed by a noticeable dip after that date, when a growing number of stay-at-home orders began to be issued by state governments, which presently cover more than 20 states in the US. 

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Out of the four cities, the biggest dip was observed in San Fransisco, which fell 42 percent during the week of March 16, after the city became the first metropolis in the nation to force residents to “shelter at their place of residence.” Petty thefts dropped by 60 percent in the city as the police department increased the rate of patrols in the streets and focused their energies on keeping thieves away from shuttered store-fronts. 

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“With fewer people out in public, there is the potential for closed businesses to be victimized by smash and grab type crimes,” said a department spokesman, Officer Robert Rueca.

Nassau County police lead a donation drive to collect medical equipment such as N95 surgical masks, nitrile gloves, Tyvek suits and antibacterial and disinfecting wipes to battle the coronavirus pandemic at Eisenhower Park on March 24, 2020 in East Meadow, New York. (Getty Images)

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San Fransisco was followed by Detroit - with a 22 percent dip in the crime rate - and then Los Angeles (19 percent) and Chicago (13 percent). 

Hadar Aviram, Thomas Miller Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and the author of 'Cheap on Crime: Recession-Era Politics and the Transformation of American Punishment' explained exactly why the sudden dip in crime rates in these major US cities had been noticed. 

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"A big part of the decline is that many crimes require a particular set of opportunities: the ability to move around, people out of the house to burglarize, etc. Another part of this is that enforcement is less stringent, both for policy reasons and because in some places a considerable percentage of the police is also quarantined at home," Aviram told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). 

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There is also a distinct possibility that the social distancing advisory will be extended in the light of how rapidly the virus is spreading across the US. After President Donald Trump said he would ideally want to end the "shelter-in-place" order in states by Easter as "you just can't close up the United States of America" he soon backtracked his comments when he announced that the nationwide lockdown was to stay in place till April 30. 

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Aviram said under the circumstances that the order is extended further, the present trend of crime drop will continue. 

Members of the New Orelans Police Department stand on Bourbon Street as Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards orders bars, gyms and casinos to close until April 13th due to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 16, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Getty Images)

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That is not to say that there doesn't remain the risk of the rate of cybercrime spiking as more and more people spend an extended time online, to occupy their time as they stay at home. "There is a considerable risk of that, and organizations that support vulnerable populations, such as the AARP, have already issued caveats about identity theft and online fraud," Aviram added. 

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British metaphysical poet John Donne once famously said: "No man is an Island." It basically means that human beings were created as social beings and hence practicing social distancing for prolonged periods of time does not come naturally to us, humans. As a result, this can often lead to an increasing number of people suffering from mental health issues. 

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"The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children," says a page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website dedicated to protecting people's mental health. 

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An increase in mental health issues among the masses, however, is not likely to lead to a sudden spike in crimes when the social distancing advisory is lifted, Aviram assured. "There is no strong correlation between mental health and crime--in fact, people who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime," she said. 

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