COVID-19 Causes Denver Arrests to Plummet: Here's How

COVID-19 Causes Denver Arrests to Plummet: Here's How
Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash
Early this month, Police Chief Paul Pazen said that the COVID-19 crisis had affected crime in Denver, but explained that the city's stay-at-home order, which went into effect at 5 p.m. on March 24, was still so new that it was hard to determine exactly how.

Now, however, we have a much better idea of how the fight against the novel coronavirus has altered law enforcement in Colorado's largest city. On some days, arrests have plummeted by more than 50 percent compared to similar days a month earlier, and the types of offenses have shifted dramatically in many cases.

One day this week, for instance, busts for traffic-related crimes and drug-and-alcohol violations were way down, but police action for assaults and domestic violence (the focus of an April 14 post) was up.

The data is available on the Denver Crime Map, an indispensable online tool that allows users to access crime statistics for the Mile High City on a daily basis. And the numbers are telling.

On Monday, April 13, the most recent date on the map, DPD stats show a total of 71 offenses. In contrast, offenses on March 9, a Monday when businesses were generally open and gatherings of more than ten people were still allowed, stood at 161 — more than double the figure five weeks later.

Of course, this past Monday followed a snowstorm, which could have held the numbers down. So we compared the record of two Fridays: March 6, nearly three weeks before the stay-at-home order, and April 10. The former registered 226 offenses, while the latter just 153 — a decline of more than 32 percent.

A deeper analysis of specific crimes and details is even more revelatory.

Take offenses after 11 p.m. — prime time for bad behavior on most Friday nights. On March 6, there were sixteen offenses. On April 10, there were just eight.

The number of drug- and alcohol-related incidents often tied to the sorts of bars and clubs that are currently closed was also telling. On March 6, the DPD made twelve arrests in these categories, including two for selling heroin and one for possessing the narcotic. On April 10, there was just one drug/alcohol arrest.

A similar gulf can be found regarding traffic crimes. On March 6, the DPD logged 25 offenses of a more serious type (parking tickets and the like weren't counted). On April 10, there were just three. And trespassing offenses fell from eighteen on March 6 to seven on April 10.

Disparities weren't as large for several other crimes, and some of the results are surprising. While Pazen had said that residential burglaries were happening less frequently, in part because so many people were at home, that trend wasn't reflected in the month-to-month comparison: both March 6 and April 10 logged seven residential burglaries. Moreover, business burglaries, which some had expected to rise with so many stores and shops closed, were the same on both days, too: four each on March 6 and April 10. The disturbing-the-peace stats matched as well — six offenses on both dates.

And despite an overall lower number of crimes, April 10 saw more offenses in certain categories, including domestic violence (ten offenses compared to March 6's seven), assault (25 variations on the crime compared to twenty), and crimes involving weapons (seven to four).

Of course, offenses don't directly equate to crime. The same amount of criminal activity could be taking place in Denver during the ongoing stay-at-home order as before the order was put into place, but police may not be hearing about it because of what's going on in society as a whole. That might be the most chilling thought of all.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts