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Update: How Has COVID-19 Affected Crime Rates Across the Country?

empty street in NYC

With more than two-thirds of Americans now falling under some form of “shelter-in-place” order and most businesses closing their doors, criminal defense attorneys are feeling the impact on their bottom line. The source of their concern is the fact that the number of serious felonies and arrests has dropped in several major cities across the country, particularly those that went into lockdown earlier than most of the U.S.

In San Francisco, violent crime was down 31% and property crime was down 50% during the first week of the city’s lockdown order, compared to the same week in 2019. San Jose saw similar drops of 45% and 36%, respectively.

In Oakland, total reported crimes declined in the week after social distancing was enforced, but they have started to rise in the days since: 250 incidents were reported between March 16th and March 22nd, compared to 259 in the same period last year.

Looking at New York City, the US city that has been hit hardest by coronavirus, serious felonies dropped from 1,604 from March 16th to March 22nd, 2019, to 1,337 this year. Car thefts, though, have been occurring at higher-than-normal rates: 103 have been reported this year as opposed to 68 last year.

What should we expect?

Some of these drops could be explained by policies that encourage law enforcement officers to limit their contact with citizens. Cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia are temporarily replacing low-level arrests with tickets — a mandate that certainly won’t last forever and is likely eliminating some of the crimes that defense attorneys deal with most often.

It’s important to note that while lockdown orders have caused crime rates to drop, they are far from zero, and arrested individuals’ process are still using the same process for choosing a criminal defense lawyer as in more normal circumstances. People are still searching for representation, and are still turning to the Internet to research their options.

What’s more, some criminology scholars believe certain types of crime will see an increase as much of the country adapts to spending more time at home than usual. “In-home” crimes like child abuse, battery, and domestic violence could see an increase with stress levels unusually high and people not accustomed to being stuck in close quarters.

Desperate financial circumstances may also put pressure on people to commit crimes, experts say. However, as Americans adapt to an entirely new way of life, the coronavirus pandemic’s true effect on crime rates is yet to be seen. “Losing income will be a source of frustration and create hardship on families, but the opportunities to commit crime are going down at the same time,” says Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “The ultimate effect on crime will depend on how those two factors weigh against each other.”

The Importance of Maintaining Your Presence

Fewer crimes mean less business for criminal defense attorneys, but that doesn’t mean your law firm should resort to an overly conservative marketing strategy in order to save money in the short term — to do so would simply mean conceding clients to your competitors. History has told us time and time again that businesses that retreat from marketing during a downturn often struggle to recover, and some never do. On the other hand, those that hold their ground (or even double down on their marketing) very often capture market share and see massive growth as the economy improves.

As mentioned above, an online presence is still an extremely important part of an effective marketing strategy, and potential clients have more time than ever before to conduct research online for their options for legal representation. The amount of time people are spending online while observing stay-at-home orders presents an unprecedented opportunity for criminal defense firms to achieve brand name recognition through cost-effective advertising on social media, content marketing, and video marketing.

If you’re looking for more insights and best practices as to how you can help your firm persevere through this crisis, Scorpion has a resource page with up-to-date trends and recommendations for attorneys that you may find helpful. For specific questions, contact us here. Our goal is to be a resource to anyone who needs help navigating this unprecedented and unexpected situation.

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