The number of arrests in Alachua County fell sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, with arrests down 29% in 2020 compared to the year prior.
Newly released data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement paints a mixed picture statewide and in Alachua County, with violent crime increasing in 2020 despite a lower overall crime rate.
In Alachua County, the total number of adults arrested dropped from 7,687 in 2019 to 5,460 in 2020, according to state data.
Arrest data covering the past five years shows year-over-year decreases in crime statewide, but the decrease in 2020 outpaces the overall trend. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office says a mix of factors explains the lower overall arrest rates during the pandemic.
“COVID certainly played a part in that because of the dramatic change that occurred for everyone in the country,” office spokesperson Kaley Behl said Monday. “We didn’t make arrests for low level crimes or warrants because the threat of COVID-19 spreading in the jail outweighed the danger to the community…”
Murder, robbery, aggravated assault, and burglary arrests all increased slightly in Alachua County during the pandemic, but low-level crimes such as larceny decreased substantially.
According to Behl, quarantines and business closures impacted local crime rates last year. More people cooped up at home meant more domestic disturbances. Burglaries of businesses increased since many stores had to temporarily close. Court backlogs in 2020 also made an impact on local law enforcement operations.
“I think that there are a lot of reasons for the drop in the arrest rates and crime reporting…” Behl said. “How we lived as a society changed. ”
Crime rates were already decreasing nationwide and in Florida before the COVID-19 pandemic upended daily life in 2020. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2020 marked the fiftieth consecutive year that crime decreased in the state
But 2020 was a uniquely challenging year for law enforcement. Officers had to change the way they interact with the public to satisfy social distancing requirements. Protests against police brutality brought renewed scrutiny to law enforcement agencies. Jails and prisons had to release inmates to fight the spread of COVID-19 in correctional institutions.
According to Behl, the pandemic also shifted criminal behavior patterns.
“People that traveled stayed home,” Behl said. “This changed how the criminal element works too.”