Crime rates on the up as the COVID lockdown lifts

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Crime rates across Leeds and West Yorkshire are starting to rise again after lockdown led to a huge drop in calls to police.

Total crime for the county was down by more than 23 per cent while 999 calls were also down by more than 20 per cent.

The change in trends and policing priorities are a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, the closing down of businesses, leisure activities and restrictions on socialising.

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But as lockdown life draws to a close, the Yorkshire Evening Post publishes a series of exclusive interviews with the man responsible for holding police bosses to account.

Lockdown has led to a very different picture of crime in Leeds and West Yorkshire.Lockdown has led to a very different picture of crime in Leeds and West Yorkshire.
Lockdown has led to a very different picture of crime in Leeds and West Yorkshire.

Mark Burns-Williamson has been the Police and Crime Commissioner since he was elected eight years ago and speaks to Emma Ryan about lockdown, race equality and devolution over three days.

He said: “It will be a little while before we fully understand the trends and whether some of that carries through further beyond the COVID period. We have seen average crime reductions of 23 per cent, which is fairly in line with the national average.”

Lockdown crime figures

Data has been published which covers the four weeks of crime figures, calls and reports up until May 10 this year and compares it with the same time last year.

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The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson.The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson.
The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson.

It shows that assault and personal robbery reduced by 30 per cent, rape calls were down by 23.8 per cent, residential burglary was down 45.2 per cent, theft from and of vehicles has reduced by 43.9 per cent, shoplifting figures dropped by 58.6 per cent, missing person reports were 37.2 per cent less.

Calls to 999 were down 20.7 per cent but 101 calls had only dropped 6.7 per cent compared to the national average of 25 per cent.

As widely expected, incidents of reported domestic violence and abuse increased by 6.2 per cent which was higher than the national average of four per cent.

COVID breaches

And it is these two areas of crime - domestic violence and anti-social behaviour - which have been the policing trends of the last few months.

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Mr Burns-Williamson explains: “Areas where we have seen increases are around anti-social behaviour. Most of that is related to COVID restrictions. Calls have been coming in in relation to breaches of these types of restrictions and during that period we have attended a lot more of these types of incidents.

“I am pleased to say that the vast majority of the public in West Yorkshire have followed the guidelines. When the majority of people have observed the guidelines and see people gather in groups and places they should not be, that is where calls have tended to come in. That is not surprising in the situation that we have all been facing.”

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However, as lockdown begins to be lifted, shops are re-opening, people return to work and socialising is allowed again - there has been evidence over the last few weeks that the crime rates are rising to what would normally be expected.

Mr Burns-Williamson said: “There has been evidence of that in the last two or three weeks. The rates that we expected are starting to come back to pre-COVID levels.”

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This has been echoed in a report presented at the Police and Crime Commissioner’s latest meeting with the Police and Crime Panel earlier this month.

It said: “Early indications from West Yorkshire are that the number of calls to the 999 system are beginning to rise and total crime is also rising - but still below that seen this time last year.”

It will take time, he added, for people to get used to the new way of normal and that will still affect the nature of policing they do.

Domestic Violence

However, while other crime trends have dropped off, domestic violence was another area which saw increased demand for police intervention - and an area where the police chief was happy to see an increase in reports of.

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He said: “We have worked really hard to make the public aware of victim support services that are still available in these situations. We have all been concerned from the outset about domestic violence and tensions that could arise, especially with kids being off school. We have been monitoring that very closely.”

A round of funding, ‘Keeping Our Communities Safe’, was opened during lockdown and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner had 144 applications asking for cash help.

Grants were awarded to 32 projects in West Yorkshire totalling £174,304.93.

Mr Burns-Williamson added: “As police and crime commissioner, I commission vulnerable support services and secure additional funding to work with a number of existing groups around domestic abuse and violence and we are in the process of coordinating that.

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“There might be increases in domestic violence and abuse coming out of this but we are doing all we can.

“We work with very good organisations like Leeds Women’s Aid and BASIS. There are a number that do some great work but because of the unexpected situations that families are facing, we did expect a demand around these incidents.

“We know there is always an under-reporting in these incidents, similar to hate crime. I don’t necessarily see increases as a negative. We are putting these services in place for a reason, that is to give people confidence to come forward.”