What is an ordinary citizen to do to stay safe?
The year 2020 was weird in a lot of ways. With the influx of and fear surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries issued stay-at-home orders, requiring all citizens who didn’t work jobs that were considered “essential” to only leave their houses for specific reasons, like shopping for food. Given this, it would be assumed that overall, the crime rates would drop, considering there were fewer people interacting with each other and more people at home to safeguard their belongings.
However, the crime data collected from 2020 shows the opposite; compared to 2019, crime in most larger cities actually increased. Frighteningly, this trend hasn’t reversed just yet, and so far crime continues to rise.
America’s Crime Capital
One city that was affected by the growing crime rate is the nation’s capital, Washington, DC. The District of Columbia has always had a reputation as a dangerous city. In the 1990s, it was known as the nation’s “murder capital” when the homicide rate peaked at 80.6 murders per 100,000 residents.
It was determined that the increase in homicides was a symptom of the crack epidemic sweeping the city, and after a widespread revitalization, Washington, DC saw reduced rates of crime. The below chart outlines the number of reported crimes (a combination of violent and property crimes) starting from the mid-2000s and the percentage change from the year prior.
The rate of reported crimes remained relatively the same with only an aberrant spike in 2016, which has a pretty significant drop into 2017. But 2020 and 2021 were two of DC’s most violent years to date, with an astonishing 20% increase in the homicide rate between 2019 and 2020, with yet another 15% boost between 2020 and 2021.
The above article also notes the number of stolen cars surged as well, an interesting stat among the sudden rise in violent crime. So why, after such positive change for so long, is the crime rate in Washington, DC increasing?
The pandemic could certainly be the reason behind the rash of car thefts. More people working from home meant more cars were left unattended, often for days at a time. Without the constant supervision of a home’s most extravagant possession, thieves were able to boost the cars easily.
DC was also home to a number of high-profile protests during 2020, sparked after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The activity during these protests led to an increase in arrests, mostly surrounding charges of civil unrest, such as felony rioting, curfew violation, and burglary.
During the ‘Black Lives Matter protests,’ 316 people were arrested in Washington, DC, leading to the deployment of the National Guard to help keep peace on the streets. The protests also led to the injury of twenty one police officers over a ten-day period between May 29 and June 7. This number is, of course, less than half of the officers injured during the January 6 storming of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, an event that prompted 52 arrests.
Crime Spikes in Sunny California
But it’s not just the east coast that is experiencing the upsurge in crime; two of the largest cities in California, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are also seeing similar increases. In Los Angeles, crime across the board rose in 2021, with burglary and rape being the only exceptions. The largest increase in crime was homicide, up 9.1% from 2020. Gun violence has seen a major uptick, with an increase of 37% in robberies committed with a firearm. The number of shooting victims in Los Angeles also reached its highest in over a decade.
The cities discussed in this article are not outliers. The entire country has seen an increase in crime, with homicide reaching its highest point in decades. Though there is speculation as to what’s caused the hostility, most believe that restrictions following COVID-19 and an increase in guns on the streets are the main culprits. Regardless, most cities like New York, St. Louis, and Louisville have seen a rise in their murder rates.
San Francisco, on the other hand, experienced a different sort of crime wave. The number of violent crimes had not increased in the way its sister city had, but it’s seen an escalation of burglaries, to the point that retail security guards simply shrugged them off.
It’s gotten to the point that one San Francisco resident has taken it upon himself to help prevent the crime in his neighborhood from spreading.
The Richmond district, a neighborhood with a historically low crime rate, has been hit with a crime wave and a massive uptick in burglaries in the wake of the pandemic. In reaction to this, resident Mark Dietrich has decided to assist with crime prevention. He’s gotten to know every inch of his neighborhood through community outreach and regular patrols that he is well aware of who lives in the area and who shouldn’t be there. He’s become so aware of the goings-on in his neighborhood that some of the other residents have started to turn to him for help when they experience trouble. He’s even helped some of his neighbors retrieve their stolen belongings.
How Can Everyday Citizens Avoid Danger?
With all of the madness and uncertainty in the world, how can someone avoid getting hurt or possibly killed?
It’s important for normal, law-abiding civilians to own their personal safety. The common misconception about the police is that their job is to prevent crime. Though this is true to a point, there’s only so much police officers can do. If you find yourself in a sketchy neighborhood without any cops around, they won’t be much help in preventing you from getting robbed.
Dietrich’s actions highlight the importance of being aware of one’s surroundings. Known as “situational awareness,” being alert when in an unusual place or surrounded by strangers is key to avoiding trouble. This knowledge isn’t always inherent, which is why safety courses like Safe Saves Lives are so important. Learning the warning signs of danger could be the difference between getting home safely and losing your life.