The effects of COVID-19 on society continue to evolve every day.
For more than three months, coronavirus and pandemic have been daily words in almost every conversation. It has affected every industry, including crime.
Earlier this year, local law enforcement officials had anecdotal evidence of less traffic on the roads and shorter commute times, but no hard numbers.
According to information from the Frankfort Police Department and the Franklin County Sheriff’s office, most areas of crime appeared to be consistent between January and May.
March was the transitional month in Kentucky, when the first COVID cases began appearing and more people began working from home and staying away from public places. Everyone was urged to stay home as much as possible, and go out for only necessities like groceries. Many businesses closed, and have only begun reopening in the past few weeks.
Assault is one of the most common violent crimes reported to both agencies, including aggravated assault and simple assaults. Both agencies reported increases in recent months.
Aggravated assault, a felony defined as involving serious bodily harm, hovered in the single digits for sheriff’s deputies in January through March before increasing to 15 in April and 12 in May.
Simple assaults, as reported by the police department, stayed between 21 and 28 through April before increasing to 34 in May.
The police department did not investigate any aggravated assaults in January, March or April. In February there was one; there were two in May.
Other trends recorded by the city were fewer shoplifting complaints in April and May, while motor vehicle thefts went up in the same months, compared to the first three months of the year.
“More thefts have been called in since we have more people at home watching the area,” Franklin County Sheriff Chris Quire said. “We have received more information on drug locations and thefts.
Domestic situations, though, have increased, Quire said.
“We have seen increases in domestic and disturbance calls,” he said. “I believe that’s due to more time together. Some are simply getting at each other after being together more than normal.”
Quire said his department has received more calls, particularly around natural bodies of water.
“The current trend for county patrol (is) complaints at Benson and Elkhorn creeks have been a hot topic since the pools are closed,” he said. “More folks are out in the water which creates more calls from landowners around the creeks i.e. littering, drinking, noise and parking and trespassing complaints.”
With people urged to stay home, restrictions on social gatherings and most businesses closed, there were fewer people on the roads in March and April. With fewer people driving, it would be logical that there would be fewer accidents.
Local data is mixed.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office reported working 98 non-injury accidents from January through March (30, 38 and 30 in each month, respectively), but only 16 in April and 26 in May. Accidents with injuries were more consistent with two in January, five each in February and March, three in April and four in May.
Frankfort police officers worked eight accidents with injuries in both January and February, followed by three in March, seven in April and 10 in May.
Like the sheriff’s office, there was a marked decrease in FPD-investigated non-injury accidents in April and May.
January, February and March saw 68, 64 and 59, respectively. In April, the number dropped to 46, then dropped further to 41 in May, according to the department.
“I believe lower traffic volumes are due to folks working from home during the COVID-19 (pandemic), which means less collisions,” Quire said.
The number of driving under the influence complaints handled by Frankfort Police also dropped dramatically beginning in March. After 22 DUI complaints in January and 20 in February, the number plummeted to seven in March, eight in April and 13 in May.
Across the nation
The situation varies widely across the nation, where some cities have seen dramatic reductions in crime, while others have seen the opposite.
According to an Associated Press report in April, Louisville’s police chief reported an 80% increase in shootings compared with the same period in 2019 as well as a 60% increase in homicides.
A national report by the Police Executive Research Forum examined crime data from 30 cities between March 16 and April 12. During the pandemic, the group found:
• Violent crime went down in 18 of the 30 cities with an average of 7.3 crimes per 100,000 population.
• Violent crime increased in the remaining 12 cities an average of 4.4 crimes per 100,000 people.
• Homicide rates remained consistent, with Nashville showing the biggest increase of 1.5 incidents per 100,000.
• Most cities saw robbery and aggravated assault rates go down as well.
Frankfort Assistant Police Chief Lynn Aubrey said the data doesn’t show the true impact of COVID or other factors, compared to historical data.
“You can’t look at five months of data and tell what happened,” she said. “No one’s using a complete model. They’re looking at a few months.”
How officers do their job has also changed as the pandemic has progressed. In Kentucky, jails have not been able to transfer prisoners between facilities. The court system has been functioning at a lower capacity by having in-person proceedings only for emergency situations or for defendants who are in custody.
Cases for other matters or where the defendant is on bond have been postponed until later in the year.
Police, likewise, have been making fewer arrests, following directions from Gov. Andy Beshear. State orders allowed prisoners to be released when they are charged with a nonviolent or nonsexual offense if they are at a low risk to commit other crimes.
Those facing nonsexual and nonviolent Class D felonies could also be released on their own recognizance, provided they are assessed to be low-risk offenders as well. They would be subject to monitoring by state probation officers.
“We prioritize what we arrest for,” Quire said. “We often cite someone over arrest when we can. Patrolling hasn’t changed. We still do it and still to traffic stops while applying social distancing.”
Aubrey said the numbers are just numbers, outside of context.
“It’s difficult to say whether there are particular” things at play, she said. “It may be every year looks like that. We can speculate to what may or may not” be the cause.
“You can make numbers say what you want to say,” she said.