Crime rates down dramatically during pandemic but domestic violence a concern: police

Calgary Police Sgt. Artiga checks a door of a business on Stephen Avenue to make sure it's secure on Thursday, April 2, 2020 as part of their regular downtown patrol. Police in Calgary were on the watch for criminals breaking into shops that were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Calgary crime rates plunged during the pandemic’s early months but the lockdown appears to have worsened the severity of domestic assaults, say city police.

Police say the effects of physical distancing regulations and lockdowns have been a major factor in falling crime numbers, with nearly 50 per cent fewer robberies and a 25 per cent drop in violent offences in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same time last year.

Assaults from April through June were also down 25 per cent, and sexual offences plunged 27 per cent.

Break and enters of all kinds were 29 per cent less common in the second quarter of 2020 and, with many stores shuttered for weeks, Calgary saw a 65 per cent reduction in shoplifting.

Home break-ins fell by 44 per cent and were down 52 per cent compared to the five-year average.

“Since the (COVID-19) state of emergency was declared on March 15th, 2020, general call and crime volumes have shown noteworthy reductions,” stated city police in their statistical report.

“Restrictions on gatherings, closures of public spaces and the large portion of the population being home‐bound have increased guardianship in residential areas and reduced the opportunity for certain crimes, such as robberies, break and enters and thefts of and from vehicles.”

Vehicle thefts or attempted offences were trending up in 2019 but took an abrupt and dramatic drop in the second quarter of this year, falling by 30 per cent.

But the number of domestic calls increased by 21 per cent during that time, a trend police ascribe to the widespread lockdown that kept people in closer quarters.

“Calls made to police for assistance or police presence for escalated domestic disputes that have not reached a criminal threshold increased sharply during the first three months of the state of emergency,” stated the CPS.

“There were higher numbers of victims of more serious assaults and sexual violence. Domestic assaults involving a weapon or causing bodily harm increased.”

Such calls, said police, have begun trending down since COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed.

In the initial throes of the pandemic shutdown, new activity at the Calgary Emergency Womens’ Shelter came to a virtual standstill, said agency CEO Kim Ruse.

“But we saw those numbers come back pretty fast,” she said.

“Some weeks (new admissions) were up 35 per cent, we saw a pretty steady increase . . . for a lot of people we haven’t seen, the stress has pushed them into these new categories.

“We’re bracing for more.”

 Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter Executive Director Kim Ruse poses for a photo in her office in Calgary on Thursday, September 5, 2019.

While many of those domestic incidents haven’t resulted in charges, said Ruse, they often led to referrals to social agencies.

The level of severe domestic violence or potential lethality has also ticked up, as has the number of men calling to express concern about their behaviour at home, she added.

With continued economic woes made considerably worse by COVID-19’s effect on employment, city police say they expect property crime numbers to trend upwards.

In fact, they say, a number of crime statistics that plunged in the spring have begun doing just that.

“We know that with the link between crime and the economy, particularly unemployment, the full impact of the pandemic on crime and calls for service is yet to be realized,” said CPS.

But last spring, that reduction in crime allowed police more time to increase their clearance rate for investigations, they said.

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