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Coronavirus National And International Crime Update
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 04/20/2020

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Every police administrator in the country and beyond is pondering an appropriate response to the Coronavirus. Crime is moderate “at the moment” for many cities. Three out of four Americans are under some form of a state lockdown.

Concern is expressed regarding the potential for violence, extremism, fraud, domestic violence, property crime, retail burglary, looting, and theft.

What’s below is an overview of national and international crime and criminal justice responses.

For Now, Crime Isn’t Going Up For Most Cities

Probably the most authoritative report comes from USA Today after analyzing data from fifty-three law enforcement agencies. Crime is down. So are traffic stops. Domestic violence is rising along with noise complaints, USA Today.

Previous reports from around the country (and the world) indicate that crime isn’t going up for most (not all) places: Dallas, Portland OR, Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Francisco, Southern California, Bangor ME, New Mexico, Business Insider (Crime down in NY and LA but crime up in Chicago), Georiga and Boston.

Fewer people on the streets could mean less crime and disorder, New York Post.

The sheriff’s office says that limited exposure led to a drop in crime, Santa Clara County, CA

From The Crime Report, Serious crimes in New York City were down last week compared with a year ago, except for a 50 percent increase in car thefts. In Chicago, both violent and property crime are slightly below normal levels. In Dallas, violent and property crimes fell last week compared with the previous week. Police chiefs are directing officers not to arrest people for minor offenses and instead cite and release them, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal states that arrests are down in cities throughout the country.

But There Is Concern in The US And Throughout The World

Cops across the United States are struggling to maintain law and order as desperate looters and defiant partiers continue to ignore shelter-in-place orders given by their local governments. Outlets report looting in all forms as small businesses seek innovative ways to protect their possessions and as local governments look to work with private companies to create potential air patrol options.

The news of increased looting comes as police departments across the country struggle to keep their own officers safe – in New York City, one in six officers is out sick. Police in Santa Cruz, California, have arrested five who have done attempted robberies on businesses in the area. Also on Friday, officers with the New York Police Department arrested a masked suspect who looted Tylenol and cash from a deli in Brooklyn, Daily Mail-UK.

New York City, under a coronavirus lockdown, saw small increases in murders and burglaries in the past week, while overall crime dropped. The city saw five murders during the week that ended on Sunday, up from one the week before, according to data released by the NYPD. There were also 204 burglaries, up from 173, or 18 percent, from the previous week, the department reported in the weekly updates made on the department’s CompStat 2.0 website, Daily Mail-UK.

Major crimes were increasing in New York before the outbreak, NY Post.

A bearded crook swiped thousands of dollars worth of booze from a Queens restaurant forced to close down amid the coronavirus crisis, New York Daily News.

Last week, Philadelphia’s police department reported that criminal activity in the first three months of this year increased by double-digit percentages when compared with the same period in 2019—the most violent year since 2007. So far in 2020, property and violent crimes have spiked by 16 percent and 11 percent, respectively, with the largest increases in retail theft—which skyrocketed 59 percent, after district attorney Larry Krasner announced that his office wouldn’t prosecute that crime—and other serious violent offenses, such as aggravated assault, up by 20 percent. Though the Philadelphia Inquirer has tried to downplay the spike in crime, statistics show that, even as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds, crime has increased overall, despite a slight dip during the city’s first full week of shutdowns, City Journal.

Shootings are up for March in Jacksonville, news4jax.

A 92-year-old woman’s home has been ransacked by burglars who claimed one of her neighbours had died of coronavirus, The Independent-UK.

Crime is up in St. Louis, KSDK. There are reports of rising violence in Chicago (media accounts differ).

Police in New York and Los Angeles fear retail burglaries, TMZ. Same for Vancouver, Vancouver Sun.

There are still more people dying in Baltimore from gunshot wounds than the coronavirus pandemic, a trend that “social distancing” hasn’t slowed down very much. It’s gotten so bad that the mayor felt compelled to beg the gangs to stop shooting people so they can save hospital beds for the COVID-19 patients.

As Baltimore City leaders help combat the coronavirus, there’s concern over another crisis that appears to have a grip on the city – crime. The gun violence is being called an epidemic amid a pandemic, with the elderly most at risk, FoxBaltimore. There are continuing reports of rising violence in Baltimore.

With billions of people under lockdown in their homes and borders shut, police chiefs say criminals are finding it hard to make money out of “traditional” activities like burglary and drug smuggling. Instead they are preying on people’s fears of the COVID-19 pandemic to sell them substandard protective goods or trick people out of their cash online, warned Europe’s police agency Europol. “Criminals are just interested in one question: ‘how can I make more money?’,” Europol director Catherine De Bolle told AFP in an interview, International Business Times.

There are endless media reports of citizens buying guns and ammunition. People are uncertain as to what’s happening. Uncertainty breeds fear. Fear prompts overreaction.

Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

There are multiple media reports of increasing domestic violence, MySanantonio.

There’s concern regarding child abuse and cybercrime, ITV.Com.

Canada

There are reports of increasing burglaries and domestic violence in Canadian cities but overall crime is down, National Post.

Mexico

A major shootout between rival drug gangs has killed 19 people in the northern Mexico border state of Chihuahua, officials say. The state prosecutors’ office said on Saturday that 18 corpses, two grenades, vehicles and guns were found at the scene of the clash in the hamlet of Chuchuichupa the township of Madera, The Guardian-UK.

A quarantine, with strict restraining measures, would result in fewer people in the streets, hence fewer robberies, probably fewer murders and burglaries; but when the social isolation ends, violence will undoubtedly return, Mexico-International Business Times.

Increasing Fraud

As the country grapples with the burgeoning coronavirus pandemic, cybersecurity experts are warning that employees working from home are increasingly being targeted by aggressive cyber criminals trying to capitalize on their unfamiliarity with remote work. The dark web is buzzing with coronavirus-related activity, experts said, with hackers selling other hackers COVID-19 scam “kits” complete with fraudulent email templates to target workers at home, ABC News.

Cybercriminals are disguising dangerous malware as important Google Chrome security updates – and they’re spreading it through news sites. The malware was first spotted by analysts at antivirus company Doctor Web. According to Doctor Web, a number of websites that use the WordPress CMS platform have been hacked and embedded with some pretty dodgy JavaScript code, Trusted Reviews

Chinese Drug Traffickers Supplying Fake Masks

They’re supplying them through the same exact supply chain, through the same exact marketing mechanisms, that they have with illicit drugs for a long time,” said Logan Pauley, an analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies who tracks Chinese organized crime networks. It seems like there’s a huge profitability there. There’s a lot of people that are really scared,” Vice.

Drug Traffickers Having Problems With Distribution

Jesús is a drug trafficker allied with the Sinaloa cartel. Last week, he and other traffickers received a WhatsApp message from the cartel’s top boss, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who declared that wholesale prices were going to increase for methamphetamine. “Mayo sent this announcement saying, ‘Everyone is going to sell a pound of crystal for 15,000 pesos ($600) from now on because of the shortage. Before that, it was 2,500 pesos ($100),” said Jesús, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The message also said, ‘If you don’t obey, pay attention to the consequences.’ ”The stated reason for the sixfold price hike is the novel coronavirus pandemic. The cartel supply chain is complex and international.

The raw chemical ingredients used for manufacturing methamphetamine and fentanyl are mainly sourced from China, the epicentre of the outbreak. In a recent interview with VICE News, Jesús said his “cooks” were already running low on some of the essential materials used in the drug manufacturing process, VICE.

The Sicilian mafia and the Calabria-based Ndrangheta smuggle drugs on cargo vessels but with lockdowns across Europe and police monitoring people’s movements, it has become harder to get them picked up at the other end, said the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Meanwhile, New York’s five Mafia crime families are said to be suffering the biggest “hit” in their bloody histories, Express-UK.

A disruption in the world’s illegal drug market will have a profound effect on supply and price and could lead to a rise in crime. The price of drugs is on the rise as the Government’s coronavirus lockdown measures have lead to fewer dealers selling drugs on the street, Standard-UK.

Drug Treatment Compromised

“Helping patients stay in recovery from opioid addiction never was easy, and the coronavirus crisis is making it harder. Addiction treatment clinics are expanding hours, hiring staff to take people’s temperatures, providing home delivery and curbside pickup for medication, and revamping procedures to limit human contact, reports Stateline.

Without more money, the cost of retooling services could put some providers out of business. At West Midtown Medical Group, a Manhattan methadone clinic, the business of providing 900 patients a daily cup of lifesaving medicine has been upended. Allegra Schorr, a clinic owner, says, “We’re trying to keep our patients in treatment and protect them from overdose. It’s a balancing act, and it’s extremely challenging.”

The Independent UK-Criminals Shifting Tactics

From The Crime Report, with other enterprises, criminals have begun the process of adjusting to coronavirus both domestically and internationally, seeking to profit from the crisis, but also incurring unexpected losses with lockdowns and borders shutting. In Britain, so far, most of the rise in lawlessness related to the virus has been opportunistic – preying on vulnerable people and the anxieties of the public to carry out scams, as well as thefts, albeit on a small scale so far, of goods in short supply, including vital medical equipment.

There has, predictably, been a huge rise in online crime, with Action Fraud, the government law agency, saying they had received more than 100 reports of fraud in the last seven weeks – with losses reaching nearly a million pounds. The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) reported the first Covid-19 related scam on 9 February, and a steadily rising number since then. The City of London Police have reported over 200 reports of virus-themed fraud attempts.

But other forms of Covid-19-related crimes are also being increasingly reported. The National police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) have said there have been thefts of oxygen canisters from hospitals and raids on food banks. Gangs have been targeting older people at home, appearing with official looking badges to take money to do their shopping, and then disappearing. There have also been a spate of reports of reports of people knocking on doors to sell fake hand sanitizer, face masks and even testing kits, Independen tUK.

Organized Crime

But before you shed any tears for the earth’s mobsters, their stock market is climbing again, as new opportunities are emerging, thanks to the pandemic—opportunities that may even be long-term. Think of mafia groups as viruses themselves, always aggressively adapting and morphing to infect societies for power and profit, Forbes.

Violent Extremists-Hate Crimes

There are concerns regarding attacks on Asian Americans, The Blaze.

A Department of Homeland Security memo sent to law enforcement officials around the country warns that violent extremists could seek to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by carrying out attacks against the U.S.

“Violent extremists probably are seeking to exploit public fears associated with the spread of COVID-19 to incite violence, intimidate targets and promote their ideologies, and we assess these efforts will intensify in the coming months,” according to the intelligence bulletin, compiled by the agency’s Counterterrorism Mission Center and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, ABC News. Racist extremist groups, including neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, are encouraging members who contract novel coronavirus disease to spread the contagion to cops and Jews, according to intelligence gathered by the FBI.

In an alert obtained by ABC News, the FBI’s New York office reports that “members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, through bodily fluids and personal interactions,” ABC News.

Federal counterterrorism officials say the pandemic might prompt would-be terrorists to expedite their plans or choose health-care targets, POLITICO.

The city has coronavirus hate-crime fever, NYPD data shows. Crime stats released Thursday show a spike in attacks against perceived carriers of the COVID-19 bug. The data shows there have been 23 hate crimes against victim’s whose protected category is classified as “other” so far this year — a 475-percent increase from the 4 reported over the same period last year. The crimes are categorized that way even though a majority of victims are Asian, officials said, New York Post.

Us Prisons

There are endless stories from TheMarshallProject documenting the release of jail and prison inmates regarding concerns over infection and the stability of US correctional facilities.

International Prisons

From The Crime Report, conditions worldwide during the coronavirus outbreak have caused tensions and unrest from Latin America to Europe to the Middle East, the Washington Post reports. Outside the walls, “It’s a very dark situation for the families,” said Mona Seif, an Egyptian activist whose brother is jailed at Cairo’s notorious Tora prison. China and South Korea have reported large outbreaks in their prisons. China has had 806 cases in five prisons across three provinces. Turkey is seeking to fast-track a plan to release as many as 100,000 inmates from overcrowded facilities, joining Iran and other countries that have freed some prisoners in response to the pandemic.

Elsewhere, anger over restrictive measures and anxiety about coronavirus have led to violence. In Colombia last weekend, nearly two dozen people died in riots that swept the prison system as inmates protested inadequate safeguards. In Italy, riots erupted in almost 50 prisons this month, leaving 13 inmates dead and 59 guards injured. In the Middle East, where hundreds of thousands of people have been rounded up in recent years in response to political uprisings, terrorism and the growth of conservative Islam, many prisoners are held in densely populated facilities that lack hygienic conditions and sunlight, leaving them susceptible to disease and infections.

Holding Charged Offenders

Per The Crime Report and the Washington Post, Justice Department scenarios to hold inmates longer than normal because of delayed court hearings amid the coronavirus epidemic are being considered. Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said, “Courts are closing and grand juries are not meeting. That means prosecutors may not be able to indict criminals before a statute of limitations expires, or dangerous criminals who have been arrested may be released because of time limits. Criminals should not be able to avoid justice because of a public health emergency.”

Help From The Department Of Justice

Department of Justice Makes $850 Million Available to Help Public Safety Agencies Address COVID-19 Pandemic The Department of Justice today announced that it is making $850 million available to help public safety agencies respond to the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19. The Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program, authorized by the recent stimulus legislation signed by President Trump, will allow eligible state, local, and tribal governments to apply immediately for these critical funds. The department is moving quickly to make awards, with the goal of having funds available for drawdown within days of the award.

The solicitation, posted by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, within the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), will remain open for at least 60 days and be extended as necessary. OJP will fund successful applicants as a top priority on a rolling basis as applications are received. Funds may be used to hire personnel, pay overtime costs, cover protective equipment and supplies, address correctional inmates’ medical needs and defray expenses related to the distribution of resources to hard-hit areas, among other activities. Grant funds may be applied retroactively to Jan. 20, 2020, subject to federal supplanting rules.

Agencies that were eligible for the fiscal year 2019 State and Local Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program are candidates for this emergency funding. A complete list of eligible jurisdictions and their allocations can be found at https://bja.ojp.gov/program/fy20-cesf-allocations.

For more information about the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program, visit https://bja.ojp.gov/funding/opportunities/bja-2020-18553.

Increasing Violence Since 2015

Violent crime increased considerably since 2015 per the Bureau of Justice Statistics (USDOJ), Gallup and the Major Cities Chief Association. The FBI recorded small decreases in reported crime in 2018 and the first half of 2019, Violent Crime.

Before any of this happened, there were endless media reports of rising violence in cities throughout the country. There are cities with major crime problems, Most Dangerous Cities.

Officials in high crime cities are the most concerned regarding COVID-19 and disorder.

Conclusions

Law enforcement’s response to the uncertainty of the Coronavirus epidemic and the fear most Americans have during times of unparalleled stress will be a challenge for every police and correctional administrator. Crime is mostly decreasing with pockets of concern in the US.

Possibly the biggest issue is rising illicit drug prices due to distribution problems and compromised or disappearing drug treatment. With a mostly addicted criminal population, that could be a major concern for all forms of crime, including domestic violence and child abuse. Police executives and officers have to make adjustments. Everyone understands that it can’t be business as usual. Communication strategies are key elements of the response.

Reprinted with permission from https://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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