Crime and the Coronavirus: What Is Happening?

As of this writing, the COVID-19 coronavirus is spreading across the U.S. quickly, especially in large cities like New York City, and governments and businesses alike are working on a wide variety of countermeasures to slow the disease’s spread. For example, many manufacturers are repurposing their factories or workshops to make medical gear, and city and state governments are mandating the shutting down of many non-essential businesses. Meanwhile, what about rates of crime across the country, such as road-based crime, theft, assault, or drug possession? Unusual and stressful circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic may cause some crimes to proliferate, while other types of crimes may drop to unusually low incidence rates. There may also be some variance from one city or region to another across the United States. How do crime and viruses mix?

Crime and the Roads

Many crimes on the roads are based on property damage, personal injury, or driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Smugglers and drug dealers can also be charged with crimes related to drugs or illegal weapons stored in their vehicles. Drinking and driving is a common crime, and the more often a given person commits this crime, the more serious the punishment may be. For example, a driver’s fourth DUI is likely to be considered a felony, or if that person committed a DUI offense within 10 years of the most recent charge. According to federal law, a driver is driving drunk if their BAC (blood alcohol content) is 0.08% or higher, and some state governments have different thresholds. Drinking and driving is very dangerous since the driver has impaired coordination, reflexes, and judgment.

As for the pandemic context, it is possible that road-related crimes, in general, are on a decline, and they might continue to drop in the coming weeks. In general, traffic is lighter, since many Americans no longer have a commute to or from work (owing to “stay at home” orders and businesses closing). This thins out the usual traffic jams in the morning and evening, and there are also fewer sales professionals driving to and from prospects during work hours. And it’s not just about business; Americans, in general, are canceling social gatherings or public events, ranging from musical concerts to dance clubs to bars and movie theaters, so there is no traffic for that, either. And anyone who is actually ill is strongly urged to stay home, meaning they aren’t on the road, either.

All this makes for some easy driving since there are so few cars on the road, but this is no excuse for anyone to start driving recklessly. There are still some other cars and trucks on the road, and defensive driving serves the same purpose in thin traffic as it does in busy traffic. Drivers should not give in to the temptation to speed, even if they see a lot of empty roads ahead of them, and they should not run red lights or cut off other cars, even if they have a lot of room. This is unnecessarily dangerous, and these drivers may still get pulled over for it. And of course, drinking and driving is no safer in thin traffic than regular traffic conditions. There may be far fewer pedestrians and cars out there, but a drunk driver may still hit them, and they may wind up hitting property such as lamp posts or mailboxes or fire hydrants. It should also be noted that police officers can spot a drunk driver on sight and will pull them over as soon as they can. Not all drunk drivers are caught and pulled over this way, but then again, there is no good reason to take this risk. Safe, defensive driving is always the rule.

Drugs and Sexual Crimes

Meanwhile, what about criminal offenses such as sexual assault, physical violence, or drug possession or trading? Many crimes are crimes of opportunity, such as these, or pickpocketing or purse snatching. But with so few people out and about, and most people staying in their residences, criminal-minded individuals will have far fewer chances to find and target victims. In fact, some people who often engage in this behavior might opt to stay home anyway, taking themselves out of the equation entirely. Meanwhile, sexual crimes, such as those committed during first dates or other meetings, may also go on a decline, since scores of Americans will be unwilling to go out for casual get-togethers like these. Other crimes, such as buying and selling drugs, might be affected as well, although some offenders may be unfazed by the pandemic and continue to hold such meetings all the same. There is no definitive answer to this, and it may vary from region to region. Some of these drug possession charges are misdemeanors and others are felonies; for example, in the state of Missouri, possession of 35 or fewer grams of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor.

Domestic Crimes

Some crimes are domestic in nature and take place between different members of a household. This often involves a spouse physically or sexually abusing their other spouse, or their children, for various reasons. It is not unthinkable that with ongoing quarantines in place, many people may get agitated and upset in their households, and end up lashing out violently against other members of the household. And as opposed to a street or mall, there are far fewer people to intervene and prevent such a crime, especially in two-person households where there is no third party at all. The best response to this possibility may be for all Americans young and old to figure out the best ways to keep their morale and spirits up, such as through frequent phone calls and video chat sessions with friends and families, not to mention hobbies and arts and crafts. All this can keep a person occupied and entertained, and help prevent tension or cases of anger that may lead to physical violence.

Senior Citizens and Crime

Unfortunately, the elderly are often the victims of crime. In particular, elder abuse. In some cases, elder abuse cases are handled via mainstream criminal charges, such as assault and battery or neglect, but some states are working on creating specific laws to recognize and punish elder abuse in particular. Elder abuse may be violent, sexual, verbal, or financial in nature, and it often targets the residents of nursing homes. In ordinary conditions, senior abuse is the result of overworked, underpaid, highly stressed caregivers who take out their frustrations on their elderly charges. In other instances, dishonest family members of the elderly try to steal money from their relative’s vast savings or try to trick them out of their money by some other means.

Tracking elder abuse is not a perfect art, but the MetLife Mature Market Institute said in 2009 that the yearly financial loss suffered by elder financial abuse comes out to $2.6 billion. That is a lot of money by any standards, and all of it just from the lone, specific crime of elder financial abuse. This also includes exploitation of power of attorney.

Where does COVID-19 fit into all this? Take note that this virus is mainly dangerous to the elderly and other individuals with suppressed or weakened immune systems, and many fatalities of the virus are senior citizens. This means that the residents of retirement homes are quite vulnerable, and their caregivers might be stressed to the breaking point by this added pressure, on top of everything else. The younger relatives of these seniors may want to check in on their senior relatives and make sure that they are being treated well. Of course, some seniors live in their own private residences, and they may have nurses and family members visit regularly to perform assisted living care. These assistants must be very careful to not spread any illness to the elderly homeowner, such as by wearing facial masks, using disposable gloves, and the frequent use of hand soap and hand sanitizer. No one wants their senior relatives to suffer abuse or neglect in any circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. Seniors face enough risks without abuse crimes on top of everything else.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having all kinds of effects on American society and the economy, and this, in turn, is likely to cause some crimes to spike, while others will drop quite a bit due to minimized social contact and thinner traffic. All Americans are urged to keep themselves and their loved one safe, both from illness and from anyone engaging in harmful behavior in spite of (or because of) the pandemic.

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