Coronavirus crisis leads to steep drop in recorded crime
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Offences including burglary and violence fall by as much as 20% in some areas
The coronavirus crisis has led to a drop in recorded crime, by as much as 20% in some areas.
Offences such as burglary and violence were down last week compared with the previous seven days, after Boris Johnson made his first request for people to stay home on the Monday.
The fall this week could be even larger after the prime minister changed his pleas for social distancing into an order to stay inside.
In one force, Durham, rated by inspectors as one of the best in England, the drop in crime was 20%. Officers recorded an average of 130 crimes a day, as opposed to an average of 165 the previous week.
Stephen White, acting police and crime commissioner for Durham, said: “Some people rely on shoplifting to fund their drug habit. That’s harder as the shops are closed.”
While there are some local variations, crime levels are believed to be down across the country, as are calls to police through 999 and 101, as people heed pleas to use online services, which consume less police time.
Chief constable Andy Cooke, lead for the National Police Chiefs Council on crime, said the closure of pubs and clubs, which drive the night-time economy, and the fact that far more people were home for much more of the day were also cutting offences: “There is less violence from pub fights, less burglaries as everyone is at home.”
However, police believe crime may start to increase as the lockdown and restrictions continue. Cooke said: “What you will see are increases in domestic violence, with people cooped up in the same home, and internet crime such as fraud and scams.”
Cooke, who is also chief constable of Merseyside, said 7% of his force were already off because they had the virus or were self-isolating.
In Durham 6% of officers are absent, while Greater Manchester police have 10% absent.
The Metropolitan police, responsible for the coronavirus hotspot of London, already has an absence rate of 20%.
He said he feared a 25-30% absence rate at the outbreak’s peak, with the force prepared to enact crisis measures and respond to 999 emergency calls only.
Cooke developed coronavirus symptoms himself two weeks ago and tested positive last week. “These are difficult and different times for policing, we are keeping a very close eye on it, we will move staff to different departments if we need to,” he said.
The Merseyside force has lost 1,100 officers over the past 10 years as part of the government’s austerity cuts. It is currently training 500 new recruits – who may be plucked out of the classroom and put on the beat before they officially qualify “as a last resort”, in less demanding roles such as guarding crime scenes, said Cooke.
The chief constable said he was worried about prisoners being released early from jail because of fears the virus could sweep through overcrowded prisons: “If they are coming out without tags, I would be very concerned. Even if they come out on tags, that leaves us - the police - to ensure they are where they should be, so puts an extra workload on the police. My preference would be that they aren’t released early but it’s not my decision.”
Regarding his own illness, he said it had “knocked me sideways”, having considered himself fit and with no underlying health issues. He insisted he had now largely recovered, barring “a nasty cough” which he had been assured was not infectious.
The 56-year-old said: “It started with a really high temperature, aches and pains. really tight chest, a really dry cough, headaches. That was the first three or four days.
“And then I thought I was getting through it and started to feel better for a day and a bit but it came back in the same way. Not so much the high temperature but the other symptoms were there. It was the first time I’d been off sick for 20-odd years.”
It had been impossible to trace everyone he might have infected, he said, because he had met “too many people all over the country”.
Cooke attended and spoke at the conference of police chiefs and police and crime commissioners in late February in central London.