COVID-19 & Justice Police

What Policing During the Pandemic Can Tell Us About Crime Rates and Arrests

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

By Tom Nolan, The Conversation

Social distancing orders in place across the U.S. have added to the long list of low-level offenses that police are charged with enforcing as a routine part of their job.

There are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, with close to 800,000 police officers. To date most appear to be exercising judgment and restraint in taking action against those occupying public spaces during the current pandemic. But then, of course, there are the exceptions.

I was a Boston police officer for 27 years before becoming an academic. My career on the force began with the large-scale unrest that accompanied Boston’s school desegregation and busing crisis of the 1970s and ended with the massive redeployment of police resources for the city’s hosting of the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

So I know firsthand how rapidly shifting priorities can determine the way law enforcement carries out its mandate. And as the author of a book on policing in marginalized communities, I also know that when officers “overpolice,” especially communities of color, it can undermine trust and increase tensions.

Taking a close look at how policing is done during the coronavirus pandemic can shed light on both of these issues: how policing adapts in times of crisis and what happens when police take a more hands-off approach to enforcement.

Softly, softly

Police in New York City, Nashville, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago have reportedly scaled back significantly on routine enforcement operations. Even when it comes to the policing of new social distancing orders, officers in departments across the U.S. are being encourage to tread lightly. “If we see large groups, we’ll go and talk to them, educate them about it and try and get compliance,” explained Chief Terence Monahan of the New York Police Department.

Such a strategy is particularly prudent given how officer numbers have been depleted due to the coronavirus outbreak. In early April, almost 20% of NYPD officers were out sick. And New York is far from being the only city whose police have been hit by illness. Chicago has seen hundreds of officers call out sick and in Detroit, the city’s police chief came down with COVID-19 alongside many rank-and-file officers.

This has coincided with a significant decrease in arrests in U.S. cities during the pandemic. The Boston Globe reported that arrests for January through April 2020 were down almost 60% compared to the same period in 2019. This sharp drop-off has not been accompanied by an increase in reports of crimes. In fact, in Boston, the rates of serious crimes remain nearly identical, dipping by just 1% over the same time frame.

Drop in crime

Other cities have seen slight drops in crime. New York City, for example, has seen an overall 4.2% decrease in serious crime in the last month when compared to the same period in 2019 “with the steepest declines realized amid the citywide coronavirus protections of the last two weeks,” according to the NYPD.

It is not known to what extent the crime figures have been affected by fewer people going out during the lockdown, leading to fewer potential victims. The data on that do not appear conclusive, with some major cities, like Washington D.C., reporting murder rates as flat, but shootings up.

Such large drops in arrest rates suggests that low-level misdemeanors and so-called quality-of-life offenses like drinking from an open container in public are not being targeted by police in the same way as they were before the public health crisis. The fact that serious crime figures have remained comparatively static, or have fallen in some cities, calls into question the notion that arrests of lower-level offenses can prevent the commission of serious crimes – the so-called “broken windows” theory of policing that still has its adherents despite coming under heavy criticism in recent years.

Go slows

The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event and its long-term impact on arrests and crime rates is not known. But research into what happens when police tread lightly may give us an insight as to what is going on now.

The current operational scaling back of routine law enforcement is reminiscent of police slowdowns or stoppages of the past. Often taking place at the beat officer level, these have occurred during disputes between rank-and-file officers and police management. Other suspensions of “policing as usual” have been observed amid tensions related to brutality allegations and punitive actions against officers.

In a study published in 2017, Louisiana State University professor Christopher Sullivan and Zachary O’Keeffe, a Ph.D. student at University of Michigan found that scaling back so-called proactive policing – high rates of stop and frisk detentions, court summonses and arrests for misdemeanor offenses – after the police-related death of unarmed New York resident Eric Garner coincided with a reduction in violent crimes. They found that reports of murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand theft auto declined by between 3% and 6% during the halt on proactive policing.

Sullivan and O’Keeffe concluded that the results challenged the “conventional wisdom on authority and legal compliance” and imply that “aggressively enforcing minor legal statutes incites more severe criminal acts.”

In a 2016 study examining police work slowdowns, law professor Andrea Cann Chandrasekher found that despite the dramatic fall in arrests “the effects on public safety may be limited” and “mostly concentrated in the area of minor criminal disorder” rather than serious offenses.

Likewise an NYPD work slowdown of 2015, following the shooting deaths of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, saw a dramatic fall in low-level arrests but no rise in crime.

Arresting developments

After the coronavirus pandemic, it may be time to rethink policing practices that rely on enforcement, such as stop and frisk and the overzealous use of arrest and ticketing for trivial offenses such as jaywalking, panhandling, turnstile jumping and marijuana possession. This imperative to reimagine the role of police in our cities is supported by research indicating that broken windows policing has not worked in keeping communities safer. Moreover, such “overpolicing” may actually exacerbate violent crime rates in affected communities.

I see the less invasive model of policing seemingly being employed during the coronavirus pandemic as a prudent and timely undertaking. But it also provides an opportunity that may not present itself again in the near term: to reimagine policing without arrests being seen as the main tool against crime.


Tom Nolan is a Visiting Associate Professor of Sociology at Emmanuel College.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

45 Comments

  • Seniors are living in fear. You guys talk about policing, the homeless and emptying the jails. Scores of seniors are dying. That is the story. The BOS is using a Department most suited for medical triage, the LA County Fire Dept, to handle housing the homeless logistics. The Fire Dept turns to the Sheriff’s Dept for help. An agency who that has traditionally handle both housing in emergencies and the homeless. Maybe the BOS should surge Paramedics and EMTs of the Fire Department’s to these senior facilities and give the Sheriff the Homeless Housing project.

    I smell politics being played here.

  • This article reeks of, “that’s some bulllsh*t Deputy!” The writer of this article, a former LEO out of Boston makes the assertion that if “low level” crimes (i.e., jaywalking, possession of narco etc.) are not enforced, then serious crimes (i.e., murder, rape etc.) will decrease, while adding some benign study, to try and add credence to the aforementioned theory. WTF!?

    Further, the author states, “I also know that when officers “overpolice,” especially communities of color, it can undermine trust and increase tensions.” Another fallacy by the author. Furthermore, the author is insinuating / implying that LEO’s are indiscriminately discriminating communities of color?

    First of all, there is no significant, empirically viable, fact driven, unbiased study which asserts the author’s incredulous statement / belief. Further, the author quotes one study to back up his theory.

    Secondly, every police station assigns it’s officers to certain geographical areas (i.e., RD’s). Which will usually encompass one to three patrol units, maybe. This will depend on the size of the area to be patrolled and the amount / type of crimes committed within that area. If there is any “over policing,” this may be attributable to there being a high rate of crime in particular area and the residents are complaining or the LE analysts are providing Histograms to justify the saturation of patrol in a certain geographical area.

    Third, these so called “low level” crimes, such as jaywalking, possession of marijuana, drinking in public are used as a premise (RS / PC) to investigate any further nefarious activity. Many LEO’s have stumbled onto righteous felony crimes by acting upon some innocuous activity (i.e., open container, loitering, etc.)

    It appears that the guest writer of this article for WLA, has been drinking the SJW Kool Aid

    • Based on the current weekly LASD arrest stats and the recent mass purge releases from the LA County Jail that Alejandro Villanueva is proudly ordering, I would venture to say this is one of Lil Alex’s mentors.

      • @Clown Show-Haha maybe. I just dont get how crime became so watered down? Like if someone commits a crime, there are penalties. Not well it wasnt that bad of a crime so we will just look the other way. Or it wasnt aggressive so they arent that bad.

        • Skippy, “I just don’t get how crime became so watered down? Like if someone commits a crime, there are penalties. Not well it wasn’t that bad of a crime so we will just look the other way. Or it wasn’t aggressive so they aren’t that bad”, how about we hire them as Deputies, or even better when they kill 2 innocent boys in a crash, we give them a County car and promote them to the Office of the Sheriff.
          NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL WHAT POLICING DURING THE PANDEMIC CAN TELL US ABOUT CRIME !!!!!!

  • Speaking of low level crime and enforcing those silly criminal offenses that only build distrust among the community of criminals. Did you here the one about the lady (they are called victims WLA) who got punched in the face by a mis-guided soul (criminal to those grounded in reality), called the police who responded and then detained our mis understood soul. As you could imagine, the victim wanted justice and to see the criminal arrested. In compliance with state law the victim was advised of the citizen arrest procedures and executed her responsibilities only to see the mis-guided soul issued a citation (promise to appear, ha, ha, ha), sign it and be sent on his merry way only to offend again and again and again right in front of her.

    Now talk about building bridges with the citizens and creating trust in the community. I’m sure the victim was ecstatic and told all her friends how much she loves the police…..sarcasm.

    In the case of the mis-guided soul on the other hand, a real bridge was built and trust developed between he and the police after being let go with a stern verbal warning, promise to appear (snicker) and warning not to do that again.

    Really….

    • “In the case of the mis-guided soul on the other hand, a real bridge was built and trust developed between he and the police after being let go with a stern verbal warning, promise to appear (snicker) and warning not to do that again”.
      Hmmmm I know of a Recently hired Deputy who promised to complete his probation, and attend all the Court ordered classes.

      Really….. pinky promise your honor!!!

  • It’s really no surprise that Ms Robles is in with LT Villanueva and Mrs LT Villanueva and was promoted to a gravy train assignment.

    https://theavtimes.com/2019/09/18/former-deputies-sue-alleging-harassment-by-former-colleagues/

    The suit notes that Deputy Carrie Robles was a young deputy who in November 2017 was responding to a report of a shooting when her vehicle was involved in a chain-reaction crash near Whittier Boulevard and Indiana Street in Boyle Heights that left 7-year-old Jose Luis Hernandez and his 9-year-old brother, Marcos, dead. The suit alleges Robles was a “Banditos associate” who was being supervised by a “shot caller” for the gang.

  • To AV Clown Show…..

    Is your point no one should be held accountable for breaking the law (police or criminal alike) or are you trying to make a weak arguement and compare a police officer responding to a call for service with no malicious intent to run into someone and being involved in a traffic collision, with the actions of a criminal committing a crime with wilful malicious intent?

    Just wondering?

    • The post of the links are called “background Information” for those who might have been wondering what @Adsurdely Disappointed was referring to in their post on (4/16 at 10:43 pm)

      Your thoughts?

  • Ladies & Gentlemen, (circus music playing in the background) step right up to the next act of the AV Clown Show. As we Tweet out every other day the generous donations and receipt of another 10 Thousand face masks from none other than Lee Baca’s holdover: Chester Chong (note: we only receive 10K at a time so we can give Alex, Mr. Magoorakami and Chester the necessary Twitter postings to garner as much attention as possible over the longest period of time).
    Feel free to look back at the LASD’s, Lil Alex’s and Big Timmy’s Twitter Feeds over the past week if you are wondering what is being referenced above.

    Isn’t it amazing how our partners with their special China contacts are able to fill the LASD with daily rations, oops, I mean donations, of these much needed “Wuhan Virus” masks?
    https://www.nationalreview.com/news/peter-navarro-claims-china-tried-to-corner-the-world-market-in-masks-after-they-identified-coronavirus-threat/

    Oh, and for you non ELA and IDT assigned folks, don’t bother looking for any extras at your home units. The HOJ, ELA & IDT peeps get first dibs. Only problem is there might be a little “quality control” issue with these generously donated supplies. Hmmmmm?

  • Accepting the donated masks is one thing, but let’s see if AV falls into the quid pro quo that other Sheriff’s indulge in with this (other) clown, Chester Chong. The ONLY reason he stays tight with LASD is for personal gain and standing in the Chinese community. And you’re right, Clown Show, he’ll milk this for as long as he can.

    He was once ordered to remove a rifle rack he had installed in the trunk of his county take-home car (under Baca). Here’s a story about the take home cars Chong and others got under Baca (including Chris Vovos…you know, of Tam’s fame….all those generous fry-cooks and cashiers that donated thousands to Villanueva’s campaign).

    https://www.latimes.com/local/la-xpm-2012-apr-02-la-me-reserve-cars-20120402-story.html

      • @ The AV Clown Show, AV is desperate for funding to raise capital from affluent Chinese for his re- election campaign. The CCW’s are play to play. Just like ol Lee, AV will go down with an asterisk next to his name for endemic corruption, outrageous stupidity ( fights with the BOS, hiring standards, Mandoyan.. etc ). No slate of Chinese Covid 19 infected masks can offset the damage he has wrought to the Department. As of right now SPOILER ALERT the “slippa man” Timmy is probably playing footsie with Chester Chong seeking desperate funds to prop with AV’s campaign.

    • Don’t forget that most treasured Villanueva approved Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) permit that only likes of someone like Chester can obtain in LA County.

  • @ Juan Carlos; Re, fund raising for Villeneuva.
    Look no further than Ron Hernandez leading ALADS to give the most moolah for for Villeneuva’s second coming. At that time you can again question Quid pro quo.

  • Well, well, well, I just saw on Facebook that AV The Clown held another stumbling, bumbling, mumbling press conference today. Can someone give this guy some basic reading and enunciation tutoring? Good thing hardly any media bothered to tune-in based on zero questions from the press following his so-called presentation in English.

    Now that the COVID-19 economic hit to the county is becoming obvious, the Clown Sheriff is trying to complain about a very small percentage of his $3.4 BILLION dollar budget being unfairly frozen by the CEO. You know, that very smart lady who is in charge of managing the budget for all 80+ county departments. Then he has the idiotic nerve to tout that he was able to save a measly $11 million in overtime this fiscal year as some type of accomplishment. Seriously?

    What about the estimated $3 million (and counting) wasted on trying to get his campaign Bag Man-Doyan reinstated?

    What about the $8 Million lost behind Sleepy Timmy’s impressive testimony while trying to defend his actions in this lawsuit: Judge Upholds $8 Million Award for LA Deputy Who Protested Traffic Stops https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/judge-upholds-8-million-award-la-deputy-protested-traffic-stops/2317822/

    Incompetence and mismanagement on full display. But don’t worry, Lt. Alejandro Villanueva and Mr. Bigglesworth would like everyone to “Move along now, nothing to see here.”

    • AV Clown Show, I am so waiting for the upcoming County fiscal Budget. The bitch slapping will continue. The BOS will vote 5-0 to slash LASD Budget, and Villanueva will be fumbling again on FB. The gibberish, and laughable bad excuses will be fun to watch.
      Sachi Hamai will school Villanueva, and shred his credibility to run LASD which will be another defining moment in LA County politics AGAIN.

      • “…And shred his credibility to run LASD….”

        So.

        Who to replace AV?

        Somebody like Robert A. Edmonds, a former LASD Undersheriff who maintains a Facebook page that we can all go look at?

        Somebody else?

        Ideas?

        • Rakkasan, I can assure you there are a couple of very viable candidates being discussed and courted. They have the requisite executive experience and internal knowledge, as well as the political acumen to REBUILD & RESTORE the Villanueva damaged REPUTATION of the LASD.

          Their names will be revealed once the time as right as we don’t need to give the Clown Show a heads start on creating false B.S. stories to attack and attempt to weaken these reputable and solid leaders.

          Besides, the AV Clown Show knows they have F’d Up so badly that the clocks on the 8th Floor are ticking louder and louder each and every day.

        • This was the same format being pushed when McDonnell was the Sheriff.
          Let Villanueva finish his term as he was duly elected and that’s who LASD wanted.

          I wonder who’s laughing now and who’s crying (whining) now.

        • @The AV Clown Show, I think the real show will start in about 2 months. AV has no alliances at the BOS, and Hamai hates his guts.

          @Rakkasan, there are 2 candidates who are going to run for Sheriff. They both have executive experience, and know how to INTELLECTUALLY COMMUNICATE.

          • O.K.

            So all these anti-A.V. posts aren’t from disgruntled LASD employees unjustly rolled up to some far assignment out in the boondocks someplace but part of an organized political effort to displace A.V.

            Interesting.

  • @Rakkasan, there isn’t an org that endorsed LT Villanueva in 2018 that has not denounced him now. Many of the Democratic Party groups of LA would rather have McDonnell back than AV. Yes, that’s how strongly they feel that AV has failed. It is an organized effort because it is clear he isn’t what he promised he would be. His entire campaign was a lie and those that are paying attention see that. He sought power and control and lied his way to win an election, as any politician would do.

    • “…As any politician would do.”

      Ay!!!

      There’s the rub–the Office of Sheriff is a political office, and any candidate that won’t won’t lie his way into office is too deep in the bushes to find.

      With A.V. it is probably a matter of changing his mind on various issues as new facts came to light rather than outright dissembling, though on some issues, like Mandoyan, he is really out on a limb.

      As far as the Democrats being unhappy I am personally a Republican so unhappy Democrats bother me not at all.

    • The Novel coronavirus is the most transmissible virus ever, and it only emerged a few months ago–“novel” is the scientific word for “new.”

      Conditions where people are packed together are where the virus gets transmitted.

      Good to see the Sheriff ahead of the curve on this issue.

      • @Rakkasan, I understand you are firmly supportive of Lt. Villanueva’s soft of crime approach under the guise of COVID-19 mitigation in the jail, but dont fool yourself, as the ONLY reason Incompetent Alex chose to exploit this mass release zero bail effort was to garner the favor and cheers from SJW types, the ACLU and the No Jails activists.

        Here is what a REAL SHERIFF who is true to his Oath of Office and the county’s citizens that he swore to protect and serve looks and sounds like:

        https://twitter.com/sbcountysheriff/status/1250967213688811520

  • @Rakkasan, the ludicrous theory these inmates released by Villanueva will somehow stop commit crimes once released, is as absurd as his mantra of ” Reform, re-build and restore. Did Mandoyan advise AV on this policy, or did Assistant Sheriff V. Just wondering!

    Since you are a Republican.. wink! wink! you must be looking forward to see these recently released inmates burglarize, rape, sell drugs, and steal vehicles in your neighborhood. Viva jefe Alejandro!!

  • Amazing article, Clown Show….thanks. AV’s gall is also amazing….an 89 MILLION deficit? I predict it’ll be higher and as I’ve said, the deputies who supposedly think the 5-star lieutenant is doing a great job are now feeling the pain of a collapsing department….and it’s gonna get a LOT worse.

    Because of his needless war with the Board and Sachi Hamai, the line personnel are suffering. Not to worry, I’m sure his CRACK team of executives (sergeants and lieutenants) will show him the way out of this mess.

    And REALLY? Villain-ueva wants millions in sequestered money released by the Board because of UNEXPECTED  liability judgments, retirement payouts, retiree health expenses and workers compensation costs?

    How many millions have been spent on the Mandoyan stupidity? 17 million was paid out to JUST the mother of the two boys killed by a female trainee in ELA (their father’s payout is pending). Retirement payouts? I remember Sheriff Idiot telling all the sworn Department managers they SHOULD retire or take a job at another agency if they didn’t get on his (short) bus with him and his henchmen. SHOCKER that a LOT of them took him up on his suggestion and the brain drain continued.

    Having watched the train wreck of this imposter’s “Restore, Rebuild and REVENGE” agenda, I sincerely believe he is purposely trying to destroy the LASD. If any of you ever read his manifesto memo to the Department execs, his “Mein Kampf,” you’d know he had a vendetta. I THOUGHT it was only against individuals who he felt had kept him from promoting. I know believe he developed a hatred for the Department itself.

    Or….he’s just an idiot.

    • I had heard he said that to the execs. Hard to imagine. Don’t bring any of your own ideas to me and if you aren’t willing to do as I say, even it’s wrong, leave??? Crazy.
      The Department did lose a lot of experienced and very capable supervisors since AV showed up.
      One of whom I worked for- I damn near cried when I heard he was retiring. Such a loss, he helped so many and was in a great spot to help many more.

  • ALADS has been awfully quiet during this great debate with no refund or rebate for for Restore, Reform & Rebuild.

    Revenge & Retaliation receives more recognition when reconciliation is really needed to move LASD forward.

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