Crime during the Coronavirus: how it will be committed, patrolled, and punished

Posted at 6:02 AM, Mar 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 08:47:34-04

SOUTHWEST FL — Fox 4 is taking a deeper look at how COVID-19 will change the way crimes are committed and prevented.

Because of the Coronavirus, many people are losing their jobs, we're being told to stay home, and businesses are being forced to close. It's led many of you to wonder if your closed business is safe from criminals.

"The businesses are going to be closed, the thieves are going to know there's nobody there. And they don't care if there's a lock down or not. So you'll probably see a little increase in property crimes, thefts," Former Police Chief Walt Zalisko said.

Zalikso said during times like this, when businesses are particularly vulnerable, law enforcement usually steps up patrols in these areas.

"Because they know those are the places that are going to be victimized first while nobody's there," he said.

Zalisko said theft and property crimes aren't the only crimes he expects to see more of during this pandemic.

"We could also expect to see an increase in domestic violence. You're cooped up in a house with a wife or husband or girlfriend. Everybody's on edge because of this virus and what's going on. You may have lost your job," he said.

if you find yourself in this situation, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.

When it comes to how law enforcement agencies are making arrests during the pandemic, you'll see different strategies in different parts of the country.

Many agencies are narrowing the criteria for when people should be taken into custody. A memo from the Philadelphia Police Department said people who commit non-violent offenses, like drug crimes, theft, or prostitution, will be arrested on scene, but then released and processed via arrest warrant and never taken into custody.

Zalisko said it's important for officers to have minimum contact with the public during this time.

"Arresting someone for any minor crime or misdemeanors or anything like that is not really necessary. What officers can do is obtain that information, and verify that information, and complaints can always be signed at a later date," Zalisko said.

Fox 4 reached out to every law enforcement agency in Southwest Florida to see what they're doing to protect you and their officers.

The Fort Myers Police Department is closing it's lobby to the public, and said people needing help will use the communication call box next to the lobby front doors.

The Naples Police Department said it's expanding officer's access to hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves and masks. It said it's contacting people over the phone to take police reports, and said if response is required, officers meet callers outside instead of going into businesses and homes if possible.

The Punta Gorda Police Department said it's making sure it's officers have PPE, and also started taking low priority calls that do not require physical response by phone and looking into online reporting. It also said if an officer does need to go in person, officers will meet the caller outside rather than inside a business or home, and will practice social distancing.

The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office said it's limiting the type of calls they are responding to including life-threatening and in-progress calls. It said it's closed all of the district offices except for District 3 on Loveland Boulevard, and is taking reports over the phone. The Sheriff's Office also said it's screening any new inmates prior to bringing them into the jail, and inmates are cleaning and washing hands frequently.

The Glades County Sheriff's Office said it has extra PPE for officers and is ordering more to protect them. It says nothing has changed when it comes to daily operations, but the office and jail are on a regimented disinfecting schedule.

The Desoto County Sheriff's Office said it hasn't changed daily patrol habits, but have always given deputies hand sanitizer, said it's a 'one deputy-per-car" agency, and is encouraging deputies to try to meet callers outside of homes and businesses.

The Cape Coral Police Department, Lee County Sheriff's Office, Collier County Sheriff's Office, Hendry County Sheriff's Office, and Clewiston Police Department did not respond to our request.

"If you happen to transport a prisoner in your patrol vehicle, that vehicle needs to be disinfected immediately after that use," Zalisko said.

He also said officers should drive with windows down when possible to get fresh air.