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NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea concerned despite crime drop amid pandemic

Stores like Bloomingdale's in SoHo remain shuttered due

Stores like Bloomingdale's in SoHo remain shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, raising concerns that criminals will take advantage of the closures and burglarize retail stores and other businesses. Credit: Getty Images / David Dee Delgado

Despite a steep drop in serious offenses during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea is still keeping a wary eye on troubling trends in the latest crime statistics.

In an interview Tuesday on WCBS NewRadio 880AM, Shea acknowledged that he and others in law enforcement expected crime to plummet with the stay-at-home directives but sees potential trouble from hard-core criminals still active in the city.

“What concerns me is there a storm on the horizon, because even though crime is down substantially, you do have certain segments of the criminal population committing crimes where they can,” Shea said. “We have stores being broken into, cars being stolen at much too high a rate. And we do have robberies taking place — robberies taking place with almost no victims on the street — those are some of the things that concern it."

The latest NYPD crime data for the week ending April 26 showed that while major felonies such as homicide, burglary, rape and robbery have declined 28% since mid-March, the total of such offenses has started to creep back up. Notably, burglaries are up 29% in that period while auto theft has stayed at the same level. In the past two weeks, police data showed robberies inching up about 9% and grand larcenies rising more than 27%.

Chief Michael LiPetri, head of the NYPD’s office of crime control strategies, recently told Newsday the burglary problem is plaguing stores and other commercial locations closed during the pandemic, making them easy targets for break-ins. He also said some of the establishments remaining open become targets at night for burglars looking for quick cash.

At least one law enforcement official believes that recent burglary episodes are the work of repeat offenders, some recently released from Rikers Island because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Investigators are also watching two pre-COVID-19 trends in robberies that have reappeared: juveniles committing the offenses and rip-offs of food delivery workers in the Bronx.

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On other issues, Shea said that with the city getting ready to open more streets to pedestrians, cops will need to be “fluid and adapt” to the situation. He also stressed that officers will have to make sure streets open to pedestrian traffic don’t become too crowded.

Shea also addressed the issue of the stress cops are facing, notably because they're dealing with an unknown and invisible enemy. The main worry among officers is that they may bring COVID-19 home to their families. Cops are so worried that some change out of their uniforms in their driveways before entering their homes, he said.

Some law enforcement officials and mental health experts are concerned that the stress of police work in the health emergency might impact officers psychologically in the future, an issue highlighted recently in a Newsday story.

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