Crime dives as cases rise: Police urge caution during holidays
By Heather Wright
Hyattsville has seen an overall decrease in crime through three-quarters of 2020; a decline that began in March, coinciding with Gov. Larry Hogan’s shutdown orders. The police department is preparing for the usual uptick in crime around the holiday season, though — pandemic or no pandemic.
Decline of thefts, overall crime during pandemic
According to the Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) third-quarter report, most major categories of crime are down, compared to 2019 numbers. Hyattsville is among many U.S. cities that have seen large drops in overall crime this year, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania tracking the changes.
Thefts, which are by far the most frequently reported crimes, decreased by about 55%, from 283 incidents in 2019 to 126 in 2020. While thefts spiked in 2019, the 2020 levels were considerably lower than in 2016-2018, as well.
“I’ve been doing [police work] since 1977, and this is something like I’ve never seen,” said HCPD Deputy Chief Scott Dunklee in a Nov. 23 interview. “You know, our calls for service, our crime report during the middle of COVID, actually dropped off. These aren’t exact numbers, but we usually handle 23-24 crimes a week, and we were down to 11.” Thefts reached a low in April, with just 26 reported, down from 100 in February and 73 in March.
Dunklee attributed some of the decrease in thefts to the closing of the Mall at Prince George’s. “The mall was closed, and so, therefore, the shoplifting and theft from cars was nonexistent,” he noted. The mall closed in mid-March and reopened June 30, but with reduced hours and limited access.
Two categories of crime have increased during the pandemic, breaking and entering (B&E) and carjacking. Residential B&E increased by 125%, from 8 incidents in 2019 to 18 in 2020. Most of the increase occurred in outbuildings (0 incidents in 2019, and 9 in 2020) versus in homes (8 incidents in 2019, and 9 in 2020).
“We had a string of sheds being broken into,” said Dunklee. He explained that sheds are often poorly secured and that “criminals like to take the path of least resistance.” The police department recommends installing solar-powered lights and sturdy padlocks on sheds to secure them, he added.
Carjackings in Hyattsville increased more than 400% this year, from none in 2019 to 4 in 2020. Dunklee said that it’s a county-wide problem, and that several groups seem responsible for the incidents. He could not provide further details, though, as an active investigation is underway.
As of Nov. 30, carjackings in Prince George’s County increased by about 170%, from 84 in 2019 to 228 in 2020, according to Prince George’s County Police Department Media Relations Division Director Julie Wright. Carjackings in the District have also more than doubled over the same period last year, as noted in an Oct. 27 Washington Post article.
“It’s one thing to have your car broken into; it’s another thing to be in your car and to have someone order you out, while they take your car,” said Dunklee. “It’s terrifying, and we’re working real hard with other local jurisdictions to try and put a stop to it.”
To deter carjackers, Dunklee recommended being observant, knowing your surroundings, and keeping your car doors locked as much as possible. “If you see somebody lurking around that looks out of place, maybe go back into the store and wait a few moments,” he added.
Holiday uptick in thefts expected
Although thefts have been down during the pandemic, overall, they usually increase in November and December as people shop more during the holiday season.
Dunklee said the HCPD has the same message every year: Don’t leave packages in carseats. Make sure everything is locked in the trunk or taken inside. Don’t leave your car running when you leave it. To thwart porch pirates, consider using a secure delivery option like the Amazon Hub Locker at the Riversdale Whole Foods. Or ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye out for packages if you’ll be away from home.
Dunklee urged everyone to be vigilant. ”If you see something, say something,” he cautioned.
“We’re here to support our community. We like to hear from people. You know who belongs in your neighborhood, who may not,” said Dunklee. “So we would encourage people to call if [they] see something that they think is out of place.”