After a month in the grip of the COVID-19 crisis, America can so far take a small measure of solace in its crime statistics. Cities across the country are reporting significant drops in arrests, including the pandemic’s epicenter, New York, which reported a 20% decline in its five boroughs and transit system during the March 12-31 period that followed its state of emergency declaration. Chicago also reported a 23% plummet in major crime categories in the first week that followed its stay-at-home order.
This is a logical trend in the short run — when 80 percent of society is self-quarantining in their homes, a drop in incidents such as drunk driving, theft and vandalism would be expected. But authorities worry that it’s only a matter of time before the unnatural pressures that COVID-19 is placing on society could begin carrying ramifications.
Already, police around the country are cracking down on hate crimes and threats against Asian Americans, who are being scapegoated due to the pandemic’s possible origin in China. Cyber crime, online bullying and predatory behavior are rising concerns, due in large part to the extra time young people are spending online. Price gouging has also been a problem, as items like sanitizers, cleaning supplies and surgical masks are at a premium. Neighborhood watch groups warn of an increase in car break-ins across the country.
One of the most disturbing, recent trends, however is the increased number of domestic violence calls. The New York Times reports that in countries such as China and Spain, which suffered the full brunt of COVID-19 earlier than the U.S., data has emerged showing that hotlines were overwhelmed with reports of abuse. Now advocacy groups in America are sounding the alarm and asking for help protecting the victims.
“It is possible that the increase we are seeing in domestic violence calls could be related to the coronavirus,” Geneva County, Alabama Sheriff Tony Helms told The Dothan Eagle. “People are out of work or working less, and more people are at home, and they have a lot on their minds and stress is taking a toll.”
Domestic disputes – a chronically underreported crime in normal times due to the pressures of reporting loved ones – could be extra dangerous at this moment. Because the coronavirus poses a safety issue for victims to even leave the house, they may feel added pressure to stay at home with their abusers or find it impossible to call the police without being overheard.
At times like these, anonymous reporting systems can save lives. STOPit Solutions’ anonymous reporting app, widely acclaimed for curbing bullying and harassment in schools, is being adopted by a growing number of law enforcement agencies as a crime-fighting tool. With an ultra-simple interface that looks and functions like an ordinary text message system, STOPit provides victims or witnesses of crimes a platform to quietly share information with police.
Once a tip is shared, police and senders can carry on a text conversation, with the app protecting the person’s identity. Anonymity is guaranteed – not even STOPit knows who the senders are. Just like with ordinary phone texts, senders can use the app to forward images and videos. That means the public has a round-the-clock back channel to deliver police concrete audio and visual evidence – the gold standard of prosecutions.
STOPit public safety partner, the Camden County (New Jersey) Police Department, registered 600 users and received 500 tips in its first two months. To show STOPit’s effectiveness and simplicity, Camden Police welcomed Philadelphia’s FOX 29 News into its Real Time Tactical Intelligence Center, where officers could view a list of tips on an electronic board.
“You can actually send us a picture so we can see exactly what you’re looking at instead of offering vague eyewitness descriptions, and you can text back and forth with an officer inside the app without them ever knowing who you are,” Camden County Police Community Commander Lt. Zsakhiem James said.
There are, of course, any number of reasons why someone would prefer to keep their identity quiet: Fear of reprisal, alienating family or friends, a lack of time, or even a lack of certainty (Did I just see what I thought I saw?). Technologies like STOPit are presenting new possibilities for citizens to share information with police without the fear of becoming entangled in the investigation.
Call STOPit today to learn more about how anonymous reporting can be implemented in your jurisdiction to improve the flow of information between the community and police.