Nobody knew how the coronavirus, with its historic stay-at-home order from the governor, would influence and inspire crime across Colorado.
No previous period, no critical incident, offered much in the way of clues to how law breaking would evolve – how conditions would reshape the ways people interacted in close quarters; how violence might erupt under stress and economic anxiety; how the cloistering of citizens in their homes would create vacuums of illicit opportunity elsewhere.
But as municipal and county law enforcement statistics from the first phase of Colorado’s response to the pandemic emerge, a few trends have begun to take shape, according to numbers reported by a sampling of jurisdictions. Crimes “against society” – offenses like drugs, gambling and prostitution – dropped in several areas, and traffic crashes dipped, too.
In general, crimes against people were down during the stay-at-home period – unless those people lived in the same home. In other words, there were fewer robberies, but law enforcement noted more assaults among roommates. Another trend: While overall burglaries remained relatively flat, the targets shifted from homes to closed-down businesses.
Some in law enforcement saw that one coming.
In Denver, crime data analysts looked to 2009, a pale imitation of a pandemic but a time when the Great Recession offered similar economic stressors. They looked at the crimes that spiked that summer. They factored in more limited mental health and addiction treatment during the pandemic, even the rising price of some street drugs.
They mapped and strategized: One concern was the transformation of the urban center from a hub of activity for both business and entertainment to an empty shell.
“When the stay-at-home orders took effect, we were very concerned about the types of crime issues that would fill that void,” Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said. “We shifted our approach and were able to get our arms around business burglaries, for example.”
In part through rearranging patrols by time of day and location, police interrupted 56 burglaries in progress – already more than twice the number of an average year.