The drop in arrests coincides with President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency for the coronavirus on March 13. Police have been making fewer arrests, and that trend appears to be continuing into April, with fewer than 40 jail bookings per day in a county of more than 1.5 million people.
Arrests for drug-related offenses in particular have fallen nearly 60 percent, according to Palm Beach County Jail data. During the 19-day period from March 13 to 31, police arrested 914 people. Of that number, 109 were drug arrests.
Arrests for other offenses didn’t see similar declines, and the number of battery, DUI, burglary, and robbery arrests have remained relatively stable even after the declaration of the national emergency.
Criminal justice experts and law enforcement agencies believe the drop in crime rates reflects more than just people staying at home to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. A mix of factors likely contributed to the change.
“This is something that’s going to be studied for decades or even centuries: ‘How did the virus have effects on crime?’” Kevin Beaver, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, told the Post. Beaver said drops in drug crimes makes sense in the current climate, but there will likely be jumps in cases of domestic violence and child abuse because families are stuck at home together.
A recent analysis by USA Today that compiled data published by 53 law enforcement agencies in two dozen states supports Beaver’s assertion. It found a massive drop in traffic and person stops—as high as 92 percent in some jurisdictions—helped significantly reduce DUIs and drug offenses. Bookings into nearly two dozen jails monitored by news agencies fell by at least a quarter since last month as crime rates have plunged nationwide.
However, a drop in national crime rates doesn’t mean police in Palm Beach County aren’t as tough on crime as they were before the pandemic. Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw told the press his deputies haven’t stopped arresting offenders in the midst of the ongoing pandemic and that they are continuing “business as usual.”
“Is the sheriff’s office going to look over some minor crimes out there? The answer to that is no,” Bradshaw said at a March 20 news conference. “Obey the law. I have plenty of room in the jail. Go by what the law is.”
Bradshaw added that he won’t be releasing inmates jailed for non-violent offenses like other counties around the U.S. have been doing to help stop the spread of the virus. He said his jails have enough room to safely house inmates.
South Florida Criminal Defense Attorney