Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on crime
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted crime and illicit economies such as organised crime, terrorism, street crime, online crime, illegal markets and smuggling, human and wildlife trafficking, slavery, robberies and burglaries.
The 'Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime' has stated in a policy brief in March 2020 that while understanding the long-term impact at these early stages of the pandemic is difficult, somethings are clear - the pandemic has caused a decrease in some organized-criminal activities, while providing new opportunities in other areas, causing a change in the "organized-criminal economy" that may just be long term. The report states that some criminal organisations could take advantage of the situation by expanding activities, with a possibility of "the emergence of criminal groups as suppliers and 'partners' of the state in maintaining order".
Impact on crimeEdit
COVID-19 caused a reduction in many types of crime around the world. A report by USA Today on 4 April showed a decrease in criminal incidents (in America) since 15 March in nineteen out of twenty police agencies examined. However the report also noted an increase in domestic violence. Some police departments are intentionally arresting fewer people to prevent potential spread of coronavirus in jails; tackling the issues in alternative ways rather than make 'physical arrests'. Associated Press reports that in Chicago drug arrests have fallen 42% since the shut down, compared with the same period in 2019. Overall the crime in Chicago declined 10% following the pandemic. This decrease is being seen across cities globally as restrictions were increased to contain the virus.
Following an increase in movement restrictions across nations, there are fewer people on the streets causing a decrease in street crime. And with a larger population staying indoors at home, thefts and residential burglaries have decreased. In Colombia and El Salvador, following the lockdowns, many types of crime saw a downfall. In Peru, crime levels fell 84% in March. Serbia's alleged drug lord Dragoslav Kosmajac died of COVID-19. In Karachi, one of "Asia’s most crime-ridden cities", saw an entire week go without any car thefts in March. In New York City grand larceny fell by over 50% in April as compared to the same period last year; however the city saw a rise in commercial burglaries despite the overall fall of ~29% in major crimes. In Mexico, amid the pandemic, some criminal groups were seen handing out food supplies while in other places in Mexico some criminals were facing unemployment. In Australia, border police found methamphetamine (crystal meth/ ice) being smuggled into the country in hand sanitizer bottles by criminals.
Counterfeit and fraudEdit
Counterfeit and fraud directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic has also been uncovered. In the beginning of March 2020, over 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks were seized by law enforcement authorities worldwide as part of Operation Pangea supported by Interpol and Europol. Police in India have seized thousands of fake N95 masks, raided shops selling overpriced masks and sanitizers, and initiated case against hoarders of personal protective equipment. In the United States individuals were arrested after impersonating doctors and demanding payments for treatment.
Operation Stolen Promise was enacted with aid from the US Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the US Postal Inspection Service, the US Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Working Group, an international intelligence coalition between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the United States. The Operation investigated and seized shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 items.
With more people spending more time online, cyber crime has increased. With work from home increasing, more and more corporate data is being accessed from homes that may not have the same level of security as office systems. The World Health Organization published a cyber security notice warning people of fraudsters imitating WHO employees.
At least one seller on the dark web was attempting to sell coronavirus-infected blood that the seller had claimed had been injected into bats after it was extracted from his hospitalized father. It was unclear at the time of the article whether the seller was attempting a scam or was actually selling the blood. Another cyber fraud in America has resulted in money that was meant for the unemployed being redirected to fraudulent accounts. The scale of it involves millions of dollar and it appears that the cyber-criminals are Nigerian.
Los Angeles saw a decrease in crime by 23% in March 2020 from March 2019. Every category of crime in LA, including reported domestic violence, except auto theft, saw a decrease. Amid the reported global increase in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations called for a domestic violence "ceasefire".
An intelligence report compiled by the FBI's Houston branch warned against the likely increase of hate crime incidents against Asian Americans, based on the assumption that a portion of the US public associate the pandemic with China and Asian American populations. They also referenced multiple incidents of hate crimes already perpetrated across the country such as three Asian American family members were stabbed by an individual who claimed the family was Chinese and spreading the virus.
In its magazine, Al-Naba, ISIS recommended that its members exploit the pandemic in order to carry out terrorist attacks. Some extremists regard the virus as being divine punishment for human sins, both in the West and in Muslim countries. The International Crisis Group said that the pandemic will harm international anti-terrorist efforts.
In April in India, an advisory was circulated among Delhi Police staff of a potential Islamic State attack on police personnel in the field in the form of a lone wolf attack or "stabbing, firing or hitting by vehicles". Between January to May 2020 Indian security forces conducted 27 anti-terror operations in Jammu and Kashmir in which over 64 terrorists were killed. Out of these at least 18 were killed during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in India. In the first week of May, five Indian Army special forces para commandos were killed by terrorists. Riyaz Naikoo, a commander of the terrorist organization Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, in his last audio message in April 2020, told his followers to follow health safety guidelines that health experts were sharing during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was killed shortly after.
Also in May a series of attacks in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of 56 people. The targets included a hospital's maternity ward and a funeral, resulting in the deaths of babies, hospital staff, and people at the funeral.
Use of COVID-19 as a weaponEdit
A railway worker from London, contracted COVID-19 and died after a man assaulted her and a coworker. The man claimed he had the virus and proceeded to spit and cough in the women's faces before running away. Police responding to a domestic incident in Durham, England were spat on by a teenager who shouted at officer that he hoped he had COVID-19, he was charged with assaulting an emergency worker. Between April 1 and May 13, 2020, the Irish police have been purposefully spat or coughed on by an individual 64 times, causing the department to increase their use of spit hoods by 70%.
In the United States, multiple police departments have documented individuals coughing or spitting on responding officers and claiming that they have COVID-19. Charges could be filed against these individuals that range from second degree assault or terroristic threatening. A New Jersey woman spat on a police officer and told responding officers that she was positive for COVID-19, while they were arresting her. Similar instances were seen in Florida, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and other states.[a 1]
In India, the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary group, became India's largest super-spreader and resulted in various type of criminal charges being filed against the attendees for not heeding to lockdown restrictions. Over 800 foreigners who attended the event where tracked down, and their visas were blacklisted. Indian media reported that those who were quarantined by the government "spat on" healthcare personnel among other things, resulting in numerous charges under the Indian Penal Code. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, in a television interview, said that "to hide a disease which is infectious is definitely a crime. And this crime has been done by those associated with the Tablighi Jamaat". The National Security Act and murder charges among other things were filed against some of the Tablighi Jamaat attendees.
Impact on policingEdit
In New Delhi, India, new guidelines were circulated among the police with relation to policing during the covid pandemic. The eleven page order included guidelines such as "maintaining six feet distance from the victim at a crime spot" and "sanitizing weapons". Israel decided to get the country's domestic security agency to use secretly collected cellphone data to track coronavirus. The same data was being used for counter-terrorism and hadn't been disclosed publicly before.
In countries like Italy and Spain, there has been a redeployment of Carabinieri and military troops respectively. The pandemic has impacted the criminal justice system. Also in the United Kingdom, as part of contingency plans, murder investigations may be limited due to the additional workload the pandemic is creating. Brazil has put anti-slavery enforcement operations on indefinite hold.
COVID-19 has added to the workload of various police agencies. Acknowledging the increased workload, Polish Police lightheartedly wrote in a tweet on 19 March, "Please stop all criminal activities until further notice", a message that was directed at criminals, "we will appreciate the expected cooperation related to refraining from committing crimes". In the Indian state of Bihar, an additional director general of police, admitted that the police are more focused on enforcing the lockdown, but that policing is also been done, thereby the load having increased significantly.
The pandemic has caused a disruption to various transnational operations such as a long-planned joint operation by six countries (Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's against organized crime and drug traffickers in the region. A reduction in legal cross-border traffic and restrictions on international air traffic makes long distance smuggling more difficult.
There has also been impact based on the potential for law enforcement officials to make contact with individuals confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the immediate health risk to be low. In the case of contact with an individual with COVID-19, CDC recommends that law enforcement officials follow the same guidelines as emergency medical technicians, including proper personal protective equipment.
Impact on the judicial systemsEdit
The Crown Prosecution Service of United Kingdom has advised out of court disposals for less serious crimes. In the United States, the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel has been reduced because of the pandemic situation.
Governments in Iran and Afghanistan have reduced the number of prisoners to limit the spread of the virus. The Supreme Court of India directed all Indian state governments to consider releasing some prisoners resulting in as many as 34,000 being temporarily released. America and Indonesia also released prisoners.
- While there are multiple incidents for some states, only one will be linked per state.
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