By Özge Terzioğlu and Madison Forwood
CALIFORNIA – The COVID-19 pandemic has led to irrepressible hardships including economic suffering, spiking suicide rates and a deep-rooted fear of the unknown in communities across the U.S..
Simultaneously, a wave of criminal and social justice reform swept across the nation, not only on TV screens, but also in mass protests.
The wave of social justice reform, coupled with a festering distrust of government, and quarantine among the entire population due to the COVID-19 pandemic could be to blame for drastically decreased rates of violent crimes gathered on behalf of the FBI.
The following statistics and phenomena refer to the period of January to June 2020.
The first half of 2020 crime statistics depict an interesting decrease in violent crimes being reported, with the graph dip similar to the dip in 2014 during the previous wave of Black Lives Matter protests, which was also another significant year for social justice reform.
Though this link is not directly consequential, it does initiate a potential pattern of how and when victims of violent crime report their attack to a police department, according to researchers.
Given the data provided by the FBI statistical department, it may be fair to indicate that there is a growing mistrust for police, and self quaranting could be leading to fewer reports of violent crimes including rape, murder, arson and property crime.
Violent Crime: Rape, Robbery, Murder, Nonnegligent Manslaughter
In the FBI’s press release published on September 15, 2020, it states that “When data from the first six months of 2020 were compared with data from the first six months of 2019, the number of rape offenses decreased 17.8 percent, and robbery offenses were down 7.1 percent. The number of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 14.8 percent, and aggravated assault offenses were up 4.6 percent.”
The report only gives an account of the numbers without context. At first glance, it is good news for the U.S.. However, the numbers don’t capture the full picture, especially when the consequences of the pandemic are considered.
For example, the report notes that the number of rape offenses is down a considerable amount. It is a known statistic that 8 in 10 rapes are committed by people known to the victim, more notably, family or acquaintances.
Not every single rape is reported. It is likely that the reported number of rapes has decreased because the pandemic has trapped people at home with their abusers, or rapists. This can make seeking help or reporting abuse much more difficult, and even dangerous.
Quite sadly, this has already been the case for minors. Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network hosts a National Sexual Assault Hotline to report abuse. They disclosed that since the lockdown began, there was a 22 percent increase in minors calling the hotline.
Out of the children that reached out to the hotline, a whopping 79 percent stated that they were living with their abuser. It would make sense for victims of rape to fear filing a police report while living in the same house as their abuser as a matter of safety.
As for robbery decreasing by seven percent, there’s a number of possible reasons. For one, if people are in lockdown at home and not going out to restaurants, clubs, bars, theaters, etc, there is a decreased chance of them getting robbed. As for home invasions, it is possible that since a lot of people are at their houses more often, that deters home invaders (this might not be true, it’s just a consideration).
The press release further stated that “The number of arson offenses increased 19.2 percent in the first six months of 2020 when compared with figures for the first six months of 2019. All four regions reported increases in the number of arsons. Arsons were up 28.0 percent in the West, 16.4 percent in the Northeast, 15.7 percent in the Midwest, and 10.2 percent in the South.”
It is possible to attribute the rise in arson to the people who used the Black Lives Matter protests, which is a non-violent movement at its core, as an excuse to wreak havoc on cities. For example, in Oakland alone there were 137 arson fires from late May to early June.
Similar to more violent offenses, property crime also experienced a reduction, in varying degrees, in reported incidents across all four regions of the U.S. The data provided by the FBI report has many different variables, however each one is taken from data between January- June 2020.
Curiously, larceny thefts decreased by 9.9 percent and burglaries decreased by 7.8 percent in the six month time period mentioned above. In contrast, motor vehicle theft rose by 6.2 percent. The later statistic tends to be an outlier especially when taking into consideration the cohesive trend from all of the regions of the country.
It is more than fair to say that overall the country experienced a lower level of property crime between January-June 2020 than in the same time span of 2019. According to the FBI report, property crime saw a decrease in the Midwest by 10.3 percent, 9.3 percent in the South, 5.7 percent in the Northeast, and 5.3 percent in the West. These are significant numbers considering the economic hardships that many Americans unfortunately experienced between the six month span of January to June.
There could be varying reasons for the decrease in property crime damage, however one of the strongest possibilities could be that people were spending significantly more time in their homes. In the middle of March, the whole world, and especially the U.S., secluded to the safe spaces of their home which also became their temporary, for some permanent, work space.
Although an increase in people quarantined in their home is one possibility, there are alternative explanations to explain the decrease in property crimes.
As BLM protests concerning social justice and police reform grew and flourished across the U.S. during the summer months, gun sales also saw an increase.
NPR reported that David Chipman, a former special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is now affiliated with Giffords, a gun violence prevention group.
He reports that “‘The U.S. hit a monthly record for gun sales in March after the virus outbreak. You can see again on May 25, when George Floyd was murdered and then the lawful protests and the looting and rioting that followed as well, again saw an enormous spike in gun sales.’”
Perhaps an increase in gun ownership among homeowners could be a deterrence for those who had committed property crimes in the past.
Regardless of the explanation for the decrease in property crime offenses, an increase in gun ownership indicates a strong belief among the U.S. population that self-defense is a necessity in an age where the police may not be there to protect them.
Another explanation for why most crime has decreased in the U.S. is that the Black Lives Matter protests have amplified the conversation around police and their role in society.
It could be argued that since Americans, on average, trust police more than Congress, distrust of the police shouldn’t be a factor in determining why people wouldn’t report crime. The problem with this survey is that it was conducted in 2019, before the nation-wide protests took place. It would be interesting to see American’s views now, on average, about their level of trust for the police.
While there is currently a lack of very recent data on American’s level of trust for the police, there is plenty of data that shows how trust for the police is divided on racial grounds. For instance, a PEW study published in 2016 notes that Black people are about half as likely as white people to have a positive view of how their local police are doing their job.
With this in mind, people of color generally feel unsafe around police, so it makes sense as to why they would not trust the police to help them with a reportable crime. This reason could explain why reported crime has been on the decline from January to June (more specifically May to June, since that is when the nationwide BLM protests began).
Ultimately, statistical evidence never captures the full story. It is crucial to consider the context behind every statistic, as well as the methods for collecting such data.
There is no sole explanation for specific decreases in criminal offenses. Rather, human society is complex and multifaceted. Thus, no matter the data, dozens of explanations may exist.
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