RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Crime fell in Raleigh during the COVID-19 crisis. With the end of the pandemic approaching, the city’s police department wants to keep it low.
“There is that concern” that it will increase, Deputy Police Chief Scott Oosterhoudt said in an interview with CBS 17.
It’s a natural worry as restrictions are lifted and daily life returns closer to normal.
With government leaders advising everyone to stay home and many businesses closed or at smaller capacities through last spring and summer, those restrictions designed to keep people safer from the coronavirus also wound up keeping them safer from crime.
Retiring Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said earlier this year that she observed a drop in crime that was likely due to the pandemic.
CBS17.com fact-checked that claim by comparing incident reports filed to Raleigh police during the 12-month period starting March 17, 2020 — the day Gov. Roy Cooper closed restaurants and bars because of the coronavirus — with those filed during the 365 days before the emergency declaration.
The analysis found a 13 percent drop in the raw number of incident reports filed during the pandemic year.
“Overall, there was a reduction in crimes against persons and crimes against property during the pandemic,” Oosterhoudt said.
The proportionality of the crimes being reported was mostly the same — assaults continue to make up the largest share, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 incident reports.
Some specific categories saw notable drops: DWIs down by nearly 40 percent, incidents involving drug violations down by more than 25 percent and larcenies also falling by nearly that much — which was not a surprise to Duke public policy professor Philip Cook, an expert on crime.
“If the shops are closed, it’s not surprising that there would be a reduction in shoplifting,” Cook said.
The pandemic also led to changes in where in the city those reports came from.
In past years, some of the busiest city blocks for police either included or were near Walmarts or other major retail centers — places with high foot traffic and more opportunity for theft.
During the pre-pandemic year, the 10000 block of Glenwood Avenue — home of the Walmart in Brier Creek — had 282 calls attributed to it.
But those stores weren’t nearly as crowded early in the pandemic, when the governor’s safer-at-home orders were in effect.
“There wasn’t a place to rob because they were closed,” Oosterhoudt said.
The busiest city block for Raleigh police during the pandemic year was the 2600 block of Appliance Court — near the interchange of the Beltline and Capital Boulevard and home to a liquor store and a Motel 6. Police received 213 calls related to that block, data show.
But Oosterhoudt says those numbers across the city recently have begun to tick back up.
“It’s difficult with a short time that we’re seeing those numbers increase to determine what that’s attributed to,” Oosterhoudt said. “But it looks like those calls for service have gone up again.”
The state no longer has any limits for the size of gatherings, and people gradually are shifting away from working remotely and returning to their in-person jobs.
That makes home burglaries more of a worry, Oosterhoudt said.
“After the pandemic, there’s a chance we could see that rise because people are going to be at work and not at home,” he said.
So what can RPD do to keep those crime levels at their relatively low levels?
Oosterhoudt says it comes down to building relationships with the community the department serves and working together with those people. He hopes a shift to more in-person meetings — and fewer virtual ones over a computer or phone screen — will help.
“People that live, work, and visit Raleigh, the more of those that can meet us or talk to us, I think the less chance we have of crime going up,” Oosterhoudt said. “It is all about relationship-building.”