Police officers watch runners in Lincoln Park where Chicago Police officers began clearing out pedestrians and cyclists in the late afternoon on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Overall crime in Chicago dropped 10 percent in March compared to the same month last year, but Chicago Police are not crediting the coronavirus shutdown for the reduction.

Chicago saw reductions in most crime categories, including murders, which were down 36 percent this month compared to March 2019. But when you compare the first four months of the year — Jan. 1 to March 31 — to last year, murders are up, from 82 in 2019 to 93 in 2020.

Shootings are up, too: from 344 in 2019 to 419 in 2020 year-to-date, and from 136 in March 2019 alone to 145 in March 2020. Thefts and burglaries are down 11 percent year-to-date from last year, police said. 

Chicago Police won’t say if the coronavirus shutdown played a role in slowing March’s murder rate.

“There is no way to correlate the crime statistics with the COVID-19 situation. It would be total speculation. So, we cannot provide a definite answer,” Chicago Police spokeswoman Sally Brown said.

But Max Kapustin, senior research director at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, said the coronavirus stay at home order may be having an impact. The statewide stay at home order went into effect March 21.

If folks are adhering the the stay at home order, “then there are fewer people outside who can be victims of the kind of violence you typically see outdoors, including gun violence,” Kapustin said.

“The change in murders and shootings in the last week or so seem to be indicating that is what’s happening, but at the same time people are indoors more often so you may see other categories of crime, especially domestic violence, rise,” he said.

While he hasn’t noticed an increase in reported domestic violence yet, “even if there’s more domestic violence incidents, the reporting of them might not go up in tandem for the same reason — the victims are stuck at home with their abusers. So it’s tricky.”

The Chicago Police did not have recent domestic violence statistics available.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina parish in Auburn Gresham, a longtime anti-violence advocate, said coronavirus has not kept gang members off the streets and is worried the focus on the pandemic will push anti-violence efforts to the back burner.

“Violence is going up and no one is talking about it in the press or the city and while this virus is a horrible thing, and I understand the focus that we have to have on it, the reality is this other virus called violence we’ve had for years and we don’t have any national attention paid to it,” Pfleger said. 

He also questioned why guns shops in Illinois have been deemed “essential businesses” during the state-mandated shutdown.

“Why are gun shops called essential businesses? And gun buying, both online and at the gun shops, has gone through the roof,” Pfleger said.

Criminal background checks, required for many gun sales, soared 300 percent compared with the same date in 2019, according to federal data shared with the National Shooting Sports Foundation on March 16.

On Thursday, Gov. JB Pritzker said gun shops are essential because the states wants “to make sure that people have the ability to protect themselves.”

“There are a number of things that one person might not consider essential and somebody else would consider essential,” he said. “…There were quite a lot of people downstate who felt like they would like the opportunity, at least to be able to buy ammunition or something else, because they might want to go hunting by themselves or to protect themselves.”

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