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How COVID has impacted crime rates in West Michigan

Certain crimes, such as domestic disputes, have seen a significant rise in the past 6 months
Posted at 5:50 PM, Sep 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 17:50:41-04

WEST MICHIGAN. — The coronavirus and ensuing stay-at-home orders have had a noticeable impact on certain crime rates in our state.

When looking at crime rates so far in 2020 compared to what police departments saw in the same span of time last year, counties across West Michigan are seeing an uptick in most categories of crime, particularly those that happen within the home.

“This is unique, because not only do we have a health situation going on, but we also have an economic situation going on, we have a political situation going on, we have civil unrest," said Elisha Marr, an associate professor of sociology at Calvin University.

It has been a violent summer in Grand Rapids, recording 22 homicides within the city this year. That is up from 17 in all of 2019. But Marr says it would be premature to attribute that rise in violent crime to the current pandemic alone.

“If you look at the national pattern, there is not necessarily a big link between COVID and gun crimes or COVID and homicides," Marr told FOX 17 Wednesday morning.

"Maybe we'll see that when we look at 12 months of data, but we don't necessarily see it at 6 months.”

What we are beginning to see at a local level is an increase in family or domestic disputes.

The Muskegon County Sheriff's Department says they have seen a 44.8% increase in those sorts of calls in 2020. While there are a wide range of incidents that fall into that civil/family dispute category, it seems clear that people being cooped up together under uniquely stressful conditions has potential for conflict.

“Really anytime when there's more stressful situations, people are more likely to engage in physical violence... a higher increase in emotional, or spiritual abuse,” Marr said.

"One of our major concerns is possibly about interpersonal violence. So, domestic violence.”

But when it comes to certain misdemeanor crimes, Marr says, “there is a decrease. We call them groupie crimes, when young people get into a group and they decide to engage in some type of deviance or crime.”

She says that during the stay-at-home orders, young people just didn't have the same opportunities to get into trouble.

The Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Department provided statistics to FOX 17 that show the total number of calls they responded to for crimes in several categories in 2019 compared to the amount of calls they responded to for each in 2020 so far.

Kalamazoo County responded to 568 calls related to domestic violence in all of 2019, while they have already seen 488 related calls so far in 2020.

They saw 527 calls for burglary in 2019, while they have only had 334 so far in 2020.

Kalamazoo County says they have just recently begun to see a major uptick in vehicle thefts. They remind the public to never leave your car running or your keys in the ignition when parked at your home or out in the community. If you have any sort of motorcycle, ATV or trailer that you aren't currently using, store them away from the road.

“Those group crimes are more about getting together and hanging out and breaking laws such as, you know, using drugs or underage drinking or vandalism or petty theft,” Marr said.

Unfortunately, once people started heading back out into the world post-lock down, these sorts of group crimes quickly returned.

Marr said the cancellation of many extracurricular activities for young people has contributed to this uptick. Saying,“it used to be that there were many opportunities for you to play sports or get involved in, you know, theater, those types of things.”

She says it remains to be seen the full impact everything going on in 2020 will have on statewide and national crime stats. Hopefully providing a better understanding of how to prevent crime in a future similar scenario.

“Sociologists and Criminologists are going to take advantage of this opportunity to look at how various factors may impact whether someone is more likely engaged in deviance, more engaged in criminal activities,” Marr said.