A side effect of social distancing: A drop in crime?


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Social distancing and other suggestions designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus may have had an unintended side effect in Raleigh – fewer crime reports.

CBS17.com investigation found that during the week of March 7-14, the number of calls to Raleigh Police dropped by more than one third when compared to the same week in each of the previous four years.

That coincides with the time frame during which the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic and Gov. Roy Cooper and other state and local leaders began encouraging people to socially distance themselves and stay home as much as possible in an attempt to limit infections.

Police departments across the country made several tongue-in-cheek posts on social media during the past week asking criminals to stop committing crimes while they focus on the spread of the disease.

And Raleigh Police spokeswoman Donna-Maria Harris said the department “is obviously pleased about any decrease in crime numbers.”

But while Harris says her data doesn’t suggest the reduction is related to the pandemic, Duke professor emeritus of public policy Philip Cook – an expert in crime and crime prevention – counters that “I think you can claim to have a causal analysis.”

“All the closings and restrictions on behavior (much of it self-imposed) are bound to have an effect,” Cook said in an email.

According to the city of Raleigh’s open data website Tuesday, there were 713 calls to police from March 7-14 – a drop of 36 percent from the 1,112 calls the department received during the same week in 2019. There also were more than 1,000 such calls during that week in each of the previous three years, and approximately that many calls in each week this past February.

Of the crimes broken down into individual categories, the most widespread involve larceny or shoplifting, and there were 115 reports of that last week – a drop of 28 percent from the 160 that were reported during that week a year ago. In fact, there were at least 154 such reports every year from 2016-19.

The number of drug-related reports (59) represented a 63 percent drop from both last year’s total and the three-year average of 155.

The 15 traffic-related reports for driving while impaired were down 44 percent from the previous year. The 20 reports of burglaries also marked a 44 percent reduction, and calls for vandalism were down 16 percent. And while there were at least 22 weapons violations in each of the last four years, there were just 12 last week.

Encouraging people to stay home more often could have several effects on crime, Cook said – in particular, the governor’s executive order to close bars and restaurants to dine-in customers.
Cook says much of violent crime and robbery is associated with drinking, and is concerned that more people staying at home could lead to more domestic violence.

He also says there could be a reduction in break-ins because occupied homes aren’t as attractive to burglars.

Cook also wondered about the effect widespread school closures could have on crime patterns, citing studies that show teenagers commit fewer crimes in their communities on school days versus days when they’re out of school.

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