Crime and the Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

Months of quarantine and financial insecurity, and decades of police brutality and racial injustice collided in a perfect storm of anger, chaos, and frustration across the US and the world, following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

This week we are seeing the most civil unrest in American streets since the 1960s.

On top of the urgent systemic issues that government and law enforcement have failed to address for years, the novel coronavirus adds an extra layer of danger and fear to the protests and riots breaking out across the country. 

The nation’s outpouring of grief, fury, and desperation can’t be ignored. And the public health issues now inherent in large gatherings can’t be disregarded. 

But in the midst of this tragic time, I have to take a break from reporting on crime. This week’s update highlights some hopeful rays of light breaking through this heavy darkness. 

Coronavirus crime trends across the country

As states continue to open up, crime rates are once again on the rise. Reviews of weekly crime reports from some of the country’s major metros show overall crime inching back up to 2019 and pre-pandemic levels.

Below is a summary of how crime looked during the first few weeks of stay-at-home and social distancing orders.

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) analyzed crime reports from 30 US cities between March 16 and April 12, and compared the numbers to the same time period in 2019. 

All but one city saw fewer calls for service than in 2019. Prince George’s County, Maryland was the only jurisdiction to report a slight increase (3%). Likewise, there were fewer arrests across the board, with 73% of the cities showing a decline.

Arrests for major crimes dropped by 66% in Boston, 61% in Miami, and 54% in Salt Lake City. Three cities saw arrests rise in the timeframe—Grand Rapids, Michigan had a 20% increase, Volusia County, Florida had 7% more arrests, and Atlanta police slapped cuffs on 6% more offenders.

Changes in violent crime during the pandemic

  • Violent crime went down in 18 of the 30 cities, or 60%.

  • In those cities with declines, violent crime incidents dropped an average of 7.3 per 100,000 people. 

  • Syracuse, New York, had the biggest drop, with 19 fewer violent crimes per 100,000.

  • Violent crime went up by an average of 4.4 violent crime incidents per 100,000 in the remaining 12 cities examined.

  • Denver saw the biggest jump in violent crime, with 10 more incidents per 100,000 in 2020 versus 2019.

  • Homicide rates were relatively stable year over year, with Nashville reporting the biggest increase at 1.5 more incidents per 100,000. Miami saw the largest dip in homicides with 1.1 fewer incidents in 2020.

  • 73% of the cities saw robberies go down in 2020 compared to 2019. 

  • San Francisco saw the largest drop with 7.8 fewer robberies.

  • 57% of the cities saw rates of aggravated assault go down.

Changes in property crime during the pandemic

  • 83% of the cities (25) saw a drop in overall property crime. 

  • On average, cities saw 48.1 fewer property crimes in 2020 versus 2019.

  • San Francisco had the most dramatic reduction, with 185 fewer property crimes per 100,000.

  • Larceny-theft—typically the most reported property crime—was the main driver for overall drops in property crime incidents. 

  • 93% of the cities saw a decrease in reports of larceny-theft. In 2020, there were 112 incidents reported per 100,000 versus 147 in 2019. 

  • 17 cities (57%) reported a decline in burglaries. 

  • PERF data doesn’t differentiate between commercial and residential burglaries, but police chiefs reported a rise in commercial burglaries during stay-at-home orders when businesses were left empty for weeks.

  • Baltimore had the biggest decline in burglaries, with 24 fewer incidents per 100,000 this year compared to last. 

  • Seattle saw a big jump in burglaries, with 32 more burglaries reported in 2020.

  • Motor vehicle thefts increased in 16 cities and dropped in 13. 

  • Vancouver, Washington had the largest increase with 19 more auto thefts in 2020 compared to 2019.

Today’s biggest threats (that aren’t the virus)

Shootings continue to be a scourge across the nation as states open up and people finally come out of their homes. Chicago’s Memorial Day weekend was its deadliest in five years.

Property crime continues to be down in most places—especially acts against private residences. But the initial dip in violent crime has normalized across much of the country, particularly in cities already wracked by gun violence and drugs continue to see those crimes proliferate, pandemic or no. 

But some new criminal activities are rearing their heads. Here are crimes that seem to be growing as we settle into the third month of social distancing.

  • Civil disobedience in the face of state and city restrictions

  • Package theft

  • Speeding

  • Surges in the opioid epidemic

  • Assault on medical workers and law enforcement (usually through coughing, spitting, or sneezing)

Crimes that continue to be problematic during the pandemic

  • Burglary of commercial businesses left vacant

  • Domestic and family violence

  • Hate crimes (especially against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders)

  • Vehicle theft

  • Financial scams

  • Price gouging

Some ways you can help

Hate crimes

Domestic violence

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline online or at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Calls are free, confidential, and offer support in more than 200 languages.

Scams to watch out for
Unemployment claims are the latest government program to fall victim to coronavirus scammers. States have lost millions of dollars to the unscrupulous fraudsters preying on the millions of Americans who've been put out of work during the pandemic. 

Scammers have hit Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wyoming so far.


Possibly the only thing as pervasive as the novel coronavirus is the unending stream of scams targeting us when we’re at our most vulnerable. Don’t give the scammers any victories as they prey on the fallout of a pandemic. 

Here’s what to look out for—and what you can do about it.

IRS stimulus check scams 

People are receiving their stimulus money, but scammers have been trying to swipe your funds since the bill was approved by the White House. Don’t respond to any of the following in regard to your stimulus payment.

The bottom line is that the IRS will not contact you for any information related to your stimulus payment. Don’t give anyone your social security number, full name, birthdate, or precious time.

“Economic impact funds” will be automatically deposited into bank accounts for eligible tax filers who already filed taxes this year. If you didn’t get your refund via direct deposit, you’ll be issued a check in the mail. 

If you didn’t file your taxes, or aren’t usually required to file, you can fill out an online IRS formto get your payment. 

Charity scams 

There has been a spike in emails, texts, and phone calls soliciting donations for phony charity organizations and others claiming to represent the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

  • Don’t respond to these messages.

  • Don’t click on any links.

  • Don’t provide any personal information.

Where to report scams 

If you come across a scam, help put these bad actors out of business by reporting it.