Arrests plummet, crime nosedives in early days of COVID-19

People are dying, many more have been sickened, millions are out of work, and the stock market has tanked. Perhaps the only good thing COVID-19 brought to Chicago is a sharp decrease in reported crime.

And, police records show, cops are arresting far fewer people as officers maintain social distance from low-level criminals and Chicagoans spend more time at home.

Through March 16 — the last day that bars and restaurants operated for in-house service — reported crime was down 10% this month compared to the same sixteen days last year, according to the city. Data for more recent days, which will reflect the loss of many business operations and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, are not yet available.

Crime on the CTA, which has been a hot topic in recent months, is down more than 19% this month through Mar. 16 when compared to the same period last year.

Crime reports have been on a steep slide since Mar. 13, the day after Pritzker banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people. A sharp decline in debit and credit card fraud is leading the reduction.

But a few crime categories were bucking the trend as of mid-month: homicides were up slightly, robberies were essentially flat, and shoplifting cases were up.

Another crime category that is showing a sharp decline this month is narcotics, down 30% compared to the first half of March 2019. The drop in drug cases may be driven by cops choosing to maintain social distance rather than make up-close-and-personal street stops that typically drive the category’s statistics.

Narcotics cases are likely to drop even further since Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx informed CPD on Monday that her office will be immediately dropping nearly all narcotics cases when defendants appear in bond court.

Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck yesterday said officers are stopping fewer pedestrians and drivers. And their “hands off” approach is driving CPD arrest numbers to possibly historic lows.

Chicago cops arrested only 60 people last Friday, the most recent day for which records are available. By comparison, 201 arrests were made the Friday before that and 221 were arrested on the first Friday of March. A source familiar with department operations said daily arrest totals are likely to drop even further.

The department’s 911 call volume is down about 30% in recent days, Beck said Tuesday.

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