Criminal activity down sharply in Delaware during coronavirus crisis

DOVER — Worldwide, nationwide and in Delaware, crime rates have dropped noticeably.

That’s according to an array of law enforcement agencies from near and far as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

Predictably, crashes and traffic violations also have dropped significantly in the First State, where far fewer vehicles are on the road due to ongoing travel restrictions.

Gov. John Carney Tuesday said state transportation records show traffic is down 70 percent in the state.

During the first week of April this year, a daily peak of about 15,000 vehicles were counted on U.S. 113 at the intersection of U.S. 9 in Georgetown. The number was around 40,000 in the same time in 2019.

On Del. 1 just south of the Dover Toll Plaza the same week, there was a high of about 50,000 vehicles in 2019 compared to 20,000 this year.

“We are not writing traffic citations in general, unless the offense is particularly egregious,” said Blades Police Chief Paul Anthony. “Other traffic violations that have been deemed worth correcting by traffic stop, have been done by passenger side verbal warning.”

Many other municipal officers voiced similar experiences.

In Georgetown, crashes have dropped nearly 50 percent, with injury-related incidents falling by 75 percent. Lewes Chief Thomas Spell said “accidents are at an all-time low.”

During Delaware’s State of Emergency declaration, Georgetown Police have issued 97 fewer traffic citations compared to 2019 data.

The number of felony and misdemeanor cases are mostly down as well. While there’s an increase in shoplifting, Chief Anthony said there’s “a slight reduction in other property crimes, probably because such a large group of people are home.”

While Camden had an approximately 14% increase in calls for service at one point this year, overall there been a “decrease in criminal and traffic activity since this pandemic began,” Chief Marcus Whitney said.

There’s been a great shift of duties in Lewes, where Chief Spell said 75% of an officer’s time is spent on coronavirus-related issues “as there is not much else going on.”

With many retails shops closed in Rehoboth Beach, drug, weapon and shoplifting offenses are down, Lt. Jaime Riddle said.

“A lot of individuals have traveled to their second homes and even more are now working from home,” he said. “This has created a situation where more people are around at different hours than they normally would be.

“When it comes to criminal activity, the presence of more people means the possibility of more witnesses.”

Crime statistics were not immediately available due to limited staffing, but Dover Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman there’s been a clear drop in incidents the past two to three weeks. With hot spots like Dover Mall shut down, shoplifting complaints have fallen as well.

Smyrna Cpl. Brian Donner reported that overall call volume is down, especially at night as self-quarantine restrictions continue. There are no longer nightly traffic clogs on Del. 300, U.S. 13 or South Carter Road either.

Police enforcement often now revolves around monitoring social distancing behavior for compliance to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and patrolling to deter any type of criminal activity with many businesses closed.

“Most of our time is being spent patrolling the local businesses and the rest of the city to make sure everyone is doing what they have to do to stay in compliance,” Harrington Chief Norman Barlow said.

With several businesses closed in Wyoming, “We spend a lot of time checking (on them) and patrolling to make our presence known to deter any time of criminal activity,” Chief Martin Willey said.

Nationwide, worldwide trends

In Chicago, one of America’s most violent cities, drug arrests have plummeted 42% in the weeks since the city shut down, compared with the same period last year. Part of that decrease, some criminal lawyers say, is that drug dealers have no choice but to wait out the economic slump, the Associated Press reported on April 11.

Overall, Chicago’s crime declined 10% after the pandemic struck, a trend playing out globally as cities report stunning crime drops in the weeks since measures were put into place to slow the spread of the virus.

The U.S. virus epicenter in New York saw major crimes — murder, rape, robbery, burglary, assault, grand larceny and car theft — decrease by 12% from February to March. In Los Angeles, 2020 key crimes statistics were consistent with last year’s figures until the week of March 15, when they dropped by 30%.

Across Latin America, crime is down to levels unseen in decades, according to the AP.

During the first week of lockdown measures in South Africa, Police Minister Bheki Cele reported rapes were down from 700 to 101 over the same period last year. Serious assault cases plummeted from 2,673 to 456, and murders fell from 326 to 94, the AP said.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the city’s aggravated assaults were up 10% in the last three weeks, and half of those were domestic violence, a significantly higher proportion than normal. Calls to Missouri’s child abuse and neglect hotline dropped by half as the virus first struck the state. Advocates said the calls aren’t made because the kids aren’t in school.

“The longer we’re in a lockdown,” he said, “the more we’re playing with fire.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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