House with security protection, crime

The COVID-19 pandemic will likely lead to a short-term decrease in some types of crime because more people will be home throughout the day, but it remains to be seen what the long-term consequences might be. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could have a negative impact on crime trends, especially in the long run, if there aren’t adequate measures to make sure people are taken care of in such uncertain times.

But it’s not time to sound the alarm yet.

Tom Stucky, executive associate dean at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI, said it’s never a good idea to make sweeping statements about what will happen in the future with crime, but it’s especially difficult during a national crisis when there are so many unknowns.

What kind of aid will people get from the government? Will the aid be recurring? Will people be able to return to their jobs when it’s safe?

“I’m not willing to sit here and say there will be no impact,” Stucky said. “It’s too soon to tell. If the social safety net is not adjusted, I would not be optimistic.”

In the short term, it could be the case that the COVID-19 pandemic translates into a decrease in certain property crimes such as home robberies, more than half of which occur between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to FBI data, because that’s when people are most likely to be at work. With so many businesses closed temporarily, and government officials begging people to stay home, there aren’t nearly as many empty homes during the day.

According to an analysis of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department records, there were 42 residential burglaries from March 17 — the day Mayor Joe Hogsett closed bars, entertainment venues and other businesses — to March 24, compared to 59 over the same time frame in February.

That said, there are still plenty of people who do what the government deems essential work, and not all of that can be done from home.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show about 20% of Black workers were able to work from home in the 2017-18 sample time frame. That number was almost 30% for white workers and 37% for Asian workers.

Income is also a predictor of who has the flexibility to work from home. Only about 9% of workers with earnings less than or equal to the 25th percentile were able to do so, compared to 61% for those above the 75th percentile. 

Gov. Eric Holcomb highlighted how severe unemployment has become in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when he announced the “stay-at-home” order March 23. He said more than 54,000 Hoosiers filed for unemployment last week, a 1,642% increase over the same week in 2019.

In the long run, if the pandemic continues an upheaval of everyday life and people don’t get the financial and social help they need, those in especially vulnerable situations may feel more pressure to resort to crime.

Darrick Hamilton, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, said he’s “very concerned” about what may happen in the future if people don’t get the assistance they need.

As it exists now, the social safety net — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), unemployment insurance, etc. — can be helpful in the immediate fallout, Hamilton said, but state and federal governments need to coordinate so they are properly funded and expanded where needed.

“With government intervention, we can enhance some of the social safety net so as to mitigate the harms of this pandemic,” he said. “Without interventions, not only will we have the tragic loss of life, but the social implications will reverberate for a long time.”

Hamilton believes direct cash from the government is “surely needed,” especially for those, such as gig workers, who often fall through the cracks of the safety net.

Lawmakers recently agreed on a stimulus package that includes $1,200 for individuals who earned up to $75,000, along with $500 for each qualifying child. Payments for individuals would completely phase out at $99,000.

The bill would also extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and include gig workers.

Looking beyond this pandemic, though, Hamilton said it’s important to build up the safety net even more — with a national single-payer health care system and federal job guarantee, for example — to thwart the effects of the next crisis.

It’s one thing to say crime trends may or may not change drastically on a large scale, talking about a city the size of Indianapolis or even the entire country, but things could look different at the neighborhood level.

Derris Ross, founder of The Ross Foundation, is worried about the people who were in “survival mode” before this massive disruption.

They were the ones who already didn’t have enough financial and social resources, and now things are only getting worse.

“If you limit even more of the assets and resources and basic needs that they have available to them right now, those are the ones that are gonna start breaking into homes, gonna start acting out in violence, doing anything to survive,” said Ross, who works primarily on the far east side around 42nd Street and Post Road.

Ross said he’s been in contact with the city through David Hampton, deputy mayor of neighborhood engagement, about how to coordinate their efforts to help the community. He’s also been working with United of Way of Central Indiana and Central Indiana Community Foundation about how to meet people’s basic needs.

United Way of Central Indiana started a relief fund for those affected by the pandemic. The fund had $17.7 million — all of which goes to other organizations helping those in need — as of March 23.

People on the front lines of helping families and communities don’t have any special foresight into what lies ahead, making now a critical time for gathering resources and providing assistance.

“This is about to get ugly real fast,” Ross said, “if we don’t put together a plan to keep our community intact.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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