COVID-19 has impacted our lives in various capacities, and it is to no surprise that, as a result, the nature and number of crimes have shifted in Cupertino. The pandemic not only forces people to stay quarantined indoors, but also creates economic strain and social disruption. This in turn gives rise to more tension and can drive many into feeling as if they have no alternative to crime.
According to the Santa Clara County Sheriff Office’s data, rates of auto and identity theft in 2020 were up 33% and 43%, respectively, compared to last year. The number of robberies, committed using force or threatened force, shot up by 70% from 2019, and commercial burglary, which is entering a commercial building with the intent to steal, rose 29%. Levels of domestic violence increased by 25%.* *When looking at these statistics, it is important to note that these percentages are all based on the relative numbers and comparisons to the previous year.
Said Captain Ricardo Urena, the West Valley Patrol Division Commander, “Cupertino is one of the safest communities in the region. Violent crime is low, however, property crime seems to be the attraction.” Specifically, catalytic converter theft is one of the more prominent issues within our community. Catalytic converters are used to reduce the emission of pollutants from vehicles and contain rare earth metals that make them targets for thieves. While 2019 only had two reported cases in Cupertino, the number spiked to 27 in 2020. Another common occurrence closer to home is package and mail theft. As more people stay indoors and shop online during quarantine, this influx in deliveries brings the risk of more packages being stolen off of porches and doorsteps. Data shows the percentage has jumped from 36% to 43% across the nation.
These shifts in the crime landscape can be credited to lockdowns, people staying indoors, economic stress, businesses being closed and, consequently, higher unemployment levels. Collectively, these factors have contributed to the climate of severe hardship for many, further intensifying feelings of tension, violence and hopelessness. Historically, socio-economic distress translates into increased levels of crime.
Said Sergeant Michael Low, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s media relations representative, “speaking in general, I know this entire past year, with the pandemic, a lot of people have been out of work, a lot of people have been laid off. […] And unfortunately, sometimes they resort to other means to make money.” This translation of economic turmoil into crime is also exemplified by homicides across America rising more than 28% within the first nine months of 2020.
Despite this, some categories have seen a lessened rate of crime. As reported in June 2020, the overall number of calls for service in Cupertino decreased during the Shelter-in-Place Order. There was an 11% decrease in both residential burglary and assaults, as well as a 57% drop in vehicle burglaries.*
*Side note: Catalytic converter theft is a separate crime and does not count as vehicle burglary. Theft occurs when someone’s property is stolen while burglary is breaking into someone’s property to steal. Since stealing a catalytic converter does not require forced entry into a vehicle, it cannot be considered burglary.
Compared to the average US city, Cupertino has 29% less total crime, yet crime persists and is shown to have increased over the past year for specific categories. According to Urena, the Sheriff’s Office employs strategies to reduce crime such as deploying a covert team to monitor hot spots, working with an analyst to focus patrol efforts and utilizing mobile license plate readers to find stolen cars and wanted people. They also advise residents to take preventative measures. Nevertheless, besides implementing easy fixes such as installing Ring systems and protective devices for catalytic converters on cars, our community must additionally address the socio-economic contributing factors that have further been exposed by this pandemic and which will continue to exist far beyond its end.