COCHISE COUNTY — National crime statistics show that offenses overall — both violent and property — plunged across the country the first half of the year, especially as COVID—19 marched across the U.S. in the spring.
However, at least one study suggests that violent crimes during the height of the pandemic remained unchanged or increased and that the offenses that did drop were those committed in groups.
The national crime statistics provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the first half of 2020 show overall decreases are not linked to COVID-19.
But but a study done by criminologist MPJ Ashby and published in a paper by fellow criminologists John Boman and Owen Gallupe for the National Institutes of Health shows that COVID-19 may have had a scant effect on criminal behavior.
That seems to be the case in a handful of areas in Cochise County, according to numbers provided by law enforcement agencies.
“Ashby’s findings showed no consistent pattern as to whether crime had decreased, increased, or stayed the same during the pandemic,” Boman and Gallupe said in the NIH paper published in July. “In fact, his most common finding was that of no change in crime rates pre- and post-COVID-19. When there were changes, they were random and seemed highly dependent on which particular city or county was being analyzed.”
Additionally, in the NIH paper authored by Boman and Gallupe, the criminologists — both university professors — said that crimes that did decrease between the pandemic months were those committed by groups. COVID-19 kept people from gathering mostly everywhere beginning in late March.
“Compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, crime — as measured by calls for service to law enforcement — has decreased markedly,” the NIH paper states. “However, there are multiple indications that the crime drop is being driven by decreases in minor offenses which are typically committed in peer groups. At the same time, serious crimes which are generally not committed with co-offenders (namely homicide and intimate partner violence) have either remained constant or increased.
“During COVID-19 lockdowns, peer dynamics have clearly been altered due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements,” Boman and Gallupe added. “We argue that these disruptions to established social patterns are the driving force behind the reduction in offending over the course of the pandemic. Without access to peer groups, the context in which much criminal behavior occurs is removed.”
In Cochise County, offenses such as rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and homicide fluctuated between January and June, but more significantly between March and June when the virus was in full swing.
In Sierra Vista for example, the only offense that decreased between March and June was robbery. Other crimes, such as assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft fluctuated between those months, according to numbers provided by the Sierra Vista Police Department. Rapes in the city went from zero in March to two in April, then back to zero after that.
Police Chief Adam Thrasher said overall the city saw a decline in property crimes, “particularly shoplifting, burglaries and vehicle burglaries.”
“Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in domestic violence calls and suicidal subject calls,” Thrasher said.
In Bisbee, robberies went from zero to one between March and April, but then dropped off completely. Burglaries, larcenies and thefts went up and down between March and June. Assaults increased from March to April, but then dropped after that.
Huachuca City showed similarities, as well, with violent crimes increasing between March and April, based on figures provided by Police Chief Jim Thies. Afterward they dropped and rose again. Ditto for property crimes.
Thies said he did not want to speculate whether the numbers were linked to the pandemic.
Douglas police also reported a drop in robberies between March and June. Burglaries remained the same between March and April, but dropped afterward. Larcenies increased steadily between March and May but decreased in June.
The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which covers unincorporated Cochise County, saw slight increases in assaults, child neglect and robbery, but decreases in burglaries, vandalism and property thefts.
Sheriff Mark Dannels said he believes COVID-19 overall did affect crime.
“When some people become unprogrammed from their normal routine, anxiety and unrest develop,” Dannels said. “COVID has changed all of us with different levels of stress being applied. This high level of stress creates actions not normally addressed.”
In their paper, criminologists Boman and Gallupe almost echo Dannels, saying that the pandemic’s effects on those who commit the crimes may be even more sinister.
“As such, the crime drop appears to be hiding a very disturbing trend where homicides remain unchanged and intimate partner batteries are increasing,” Boman and Gallupe wrote. “Since many offenders would presumably be committing less serious crimes in a non-pandemic world, we raise attention to the possibility that mandatory lockdown orders may have taken minor offenders and placed them into situations where there is rampant opportunity for intimate partner violence, serious batteries, and homicides.”