Post-COVID Lockdowns, Early Big City Crime Stats Are Slightly Encouraging

Early COVID lockdown effects show no significant increases in most crime. In most cases, there were drops.


Contemplating a world in which huge swaths of people were suddenly without legal means to feed themselves or pay rent, some feared that crime statistics might turn ugly in America.

But crime stats from America's 10 largest population cities, at least for those that have made data from April or later publicly available, are tentatively encouraging. While some dark times for out of work Americans regarding their rents and mortgages still loom, sudden mass unemployment did not appear to lead to an uptick in all crimes across major American metros.

For the month of April, the first full month of shutdowns, New York's "major index crime" saw a "-28.5 percent decrease (5,121 v. 7,162) when compared to the same period in 2019," according to data collected by the New York Police Department. In April, "overall crime fell in every borough, within the transit system and across public housing."

Crime did not fall across all categories, however, which might be an effect of the shutdown. "Murder, auto theft, and burglary all increased," with commercial burglaries in April seeing a very depressing 169 percent increase over last April—564 v. 210. On the bright side, robberies, grand larcenies, and felony assaults all dived compared to 2019—26 percent, 52 percent, and 32 percent respectively.

The city's press release notes that "particularly hard hit are small merchants, bodegas, and restaurants that are already enduring difficulties amid this public health crisis. These crimes are organized, occurring amid the ongoing emergency measures that have seen stores shuttered, and perpetrators are targeting those already vulnerable businesses."

Los Angeles, number two in population, has released crime stats through the end of May. That city also saw year-to-date crime rates dive in most categories. Robbery is down 17.6 percent, aggravated assaults are down 2.1 percent, rape is down 23.3 percent, and burglary is down 9.2 percent. However, L.A. crime stats are not all good news: year-to-date homicides are up nearly 5 percent, and motor vehicle theft is up 19.6 percent compared to 2019.

Chicago, America's third-largest city, has also seen year-to-date crime numbers dive through May 24 compared to 2019 in all the categories except murder, which is up 14 percent. But other categories have seen drops in numbers compared to 2019, including burglary (down 17 percent), theft (down 24 percent), robbery (down 1 percent), criminal sexual assault (down 16 percent), and motor vehicle theft (down 7 percent).

Not every city in America's top 10 has yet released user-friendly crime comparisons between this time last year and the months that cover COVID-19 restrictions. Among other of such big cities that have, Philadelphia, America's sixth-largest city, has crime stats up through June 6, which means that city has also incorporated offenses related to the George Floyd protests and riots. That said, year-to-date crime number comparisons with the same period in 2019 have shown declines in rape (down 22.9 percent), theft from persons (down 21.4 percent), and robbery without a gun (down 11 percent).

Murder in the city of brotherly love, though, is up 19.4 percent compared to 2019, theft of motor vehicles up 23.2 percent, and commercial burglary is up a staggering 223.9 percent. (Note, again, that Philly's figures are far more up to date and incorporate the protest and riot period, unlike many of the other figures above.)

Dallas, America's ninth highest-population city, released figures through the end of May. Dallas is a mixed bag compared to 2019. Overall assault offenses are up 2.9 percent, but overall homicide is down 18.4 percent and forcible sex offenses are down 14.3 percent. Looking just at property crimes, larceny/theft offenses overall are down nearly 4 percent compared to the same period in 2019, and robbery overall is down 22.6 percent. Arson, though, is up over 10 percent and business burglaries are up 6.7 percent.

San Jose, California, America's 10th largest population city, only has figures released through the end of April, which includes just the first full month of COVID-19 shutdowns. But crime had fallen across the board in every reported category compared to that same period in 2019, including a 14.4 percent drop in robbery, 7.1 percent drop in burglary, 10.7 percent drop in rape, 27.3 percent drop in homicide, and 17.6 percent drop in vehicle theft.

Caveats abound: Not all of these high-population cities have public crime statistics covering more than one full month of lockdown effects; only a few datasets reflected the recent urban protests and rioting; in some cases numbers will be readjusted later; etc., etc. However, these cities are seeing interestingly and perhaps surprisingly decent crime results, at least so far, for a country under very unusual stress.