Apparently Chicago’s criminals are getting the message to stay home and practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. According to figures from the Chicago Police Department, there has been a single homicide in the city over the past week, far below the city’s average.
Chicago has not had a one-homicide week in more than five years, according to a WBEZ analysis of data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“The coronavirus crisis is reducing people’s exposure to risk, keeping them inside, keeping them out of risky places, keeping them out of bars and restaurants,” said Wesley G. Skogan, a Northwestern University political scientist who studies crime.
The city’s slowdown in violence took hold March 19, two days before Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order took effect.
During that same time, there’ve been 35 non-fatal shootings in the city, including a dozen on Wednesday, so it’s not like criminal activity has stopped completely. Still, crime is down significantly in several categories.
- Murders dropped 29%
- Shootings were down 19%
- Sexual assaults dropped 51% from 2019
“We can’t specifically say the crime rate is effected by the coronavirus but obviously what we know going back many years and looking at data is that when large congregations of people are outside in neighborhoods where gun violence is prevalent that increases the risk,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
With more people at home, burglaries dropped 23%. The only major crime that rose last week were car thefts — the increase was only slight.
This is good news for Chicago, and they needed it, frankly. Even with the recent drop in violent crimes, the Chicago Police Department says overall, murders are still up 34% and shootings up 27% compared to year-to-date totals in 2019.
Some are concerned that the drop in violent crime could rebound in the weeks ahead. WBEZ radio spoke to Northwestern University professor Wesley Skogan, who says there’s reason to think the decline is only temporary.
“It’s getting warmer and, when the season is warmer, there’s always a lot more street activity and street excitement,” Skogan said.
Another factor that could eventually encourage violence stems from closing Chicago schools to combat the virus.
“There’s simply a lot more kids at home — all day, every day — driving their parents crazy and driving themselves crazy, gathering in groups as teenagers will,” Skogan said.
We know that the stay-at-home orders issued by many governors are temporary, and sooner or later (hopefully sooner) we’re going to be back outside, going to work, enjoying parks and restaurants, and getting on with our lives. For the vast majority of us, that will be an unquestionably good thing, but for residents in Chicago’s high-crime neighborhoods, they may prefer to keep criminals quarantined to keep the peace on the streets.