Chicago Criminal Case Arrests Drop During Coronavirus Outbreak

During the period of time from late March to late April last month (the time period involving the first 30 days of Governor Pritzker’s stay-at-home order), the Chicago Police reported less than 1500 arrests, in contrast to nearly 5000 arrests by the CPD in the same period last year. Chicago Police, who routinely make dozens of drug related arrests every day, in fact made only 175 during that period, in contrast to over 1300 in the same period last year. These arrest totals were the lowest for any such time period reaching back to as far as 2001.

During the stay-at-home order, it’s been common to hear from people that they can’t stand so much “togetherness.” Children home from school, spouses and significant others working from home, an inability to go shopping or eat at restaurants, and a general lack of opportunity to leave the home have all contributed to heightened tensions and frayed nerves. Things that might otherwise gone unnoticed have now often become the source of arguments, fights and sometimes crimes. Although the Chicago Police Department reports that arrests for battery and aggravated battery charges dropped by more than 50% during that time (in line with drops related to other criminal offenses), domestic battery has been another matter entirely.

Chicago Domestic Battery Cases on the Rise

Under Illinois law, a battery occurs whenever a person touches another (either directly or with another object or by throwing an object), whether or not the touching causes physical pain or injury, as long as the other party feels insulted or provoked. But whereas a regular battery generally involves the touching of another person, a “domestic battery” is a battery that involves the touching of a family or household member. Although it’s obvious what a family member is, what a household member is can be often subject to interpretation and may include renters, boyfriends, girlfriends, or people that just live there occasionally.

Despite the drop in Chicago batteries between March and April from nearly 1000 the year before to less than 450 last month, domestic batteries have been on the rise, clocking in at a higher rate than in the same time period over the last four years. Although many of the reported crimes were undoubtedly minor involving slight contact, others which were charged as aggravated battery (a felony) involved great bodily harm such as stabbing or permanent injury. Another area that doesn’t seem to have been affected by the Pandemic has been murders and homicides which are similar in number to last year during this period.

Why Have Chicago Arrests Dropped During COVID-19?

There are many converging facts and theories that relate to why the volume of arrests both in the city and surrounding Illinois areas has been on the (most likely temporary) decline since the stay-at-home order was put into place including:

  • Less Chance to Interact with Others – The most obvious reason would be that since the majority of people are staying inside, they have less chance of interacting with others and causing trouble or arguments (except of course domestic batteries).
  • No Stores Open – The downturn in arrests for retail theft is obviously a result of stores not being open. There’s simply no opportunity to shoplift from a store that’s not even open. Other types of theft or robbery that happen to individuals have also been curtailed due to the people simply not being outside and in danger of being victimized.
  • Fewer Calls to 911 – People are trying to limit contact with others to avoid the transmission of Covid-19. There’s some suggestion that people are just calling the Chicago Police less than normal because they know that such a call is basically inviting strangers into their home and that police are undoubtedly having contact with many potentially infected others. So, victims that might otherwise make the call are not, because they just don’t want others walking around in their home or standing too closely to them.
  • States Attorney Limiting Drug Prosecutions – At least in regards to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, there’s some indication that they are limiting prosecutions of drug related offenses because the Illinois State Crime Lab (which is charged with testing drugs for criminal cases) has scaled back their operations during Covid.
  • Chicago Police Protocols – It has been reported that during the pandemic, supervisors in the CPD have instructed police to write a ticket, rather than effectuate an arrest, whenever possible for lower level crimes. In such an event, a ticket will take the form of what is called an ordinance violation which sometimes doesn’t require the defendant to appear in court and instead allows payment of a fine penalty by mail. In other circumstances when a court appearance is necessary, the benefit of writing such an ordinance violation is that the defendant does not need to be brought to the station or handcuffed. It’s also very likely that when faced with the choice between making an arrest or not, some officers are simply choosing on their own to not do so, thereby limiting their personal contact.

Cook County Courts (as well as those for Lake County, DuPage County, Kane County, Will County and others) are presently expected to re-open during the month of June. Once the stay-at-home order is lifted, it’s anticipated that arrest levels are likely to rise again in Chicago. If you’ve been charged with a criminal or traffic matter, call us 24/7 to be put in touch an experienced member of our legal team at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC. We can be reached for a free consultation at (312) 644-0444.