Crime and Coronavirus: Police Protect, Predators Pounce

The day-to-day reality of police officers in Jamaica Plain has been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[Our department] has been directly impacted,” Sgt. John Dougherty told the Gazette in an email. “Many of the 911 calls and assignments that we respond to now have some relation to the emergency.”

Since mid-March, District E-13 officers have been urging residents to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Nevertheless, large groups continue to gather at locations like the Arnold Arboretum and other public spaces. On April 7, Mayor Marty Walsh enacted even stricter measures—an overnight curfew, the closure of all city parks, and the recommendation to wear a face covering in public.

Littering has become an ongoing concern. Street cleaning crews report an increase in masks, latex gloves and other protective items discarded in public areas. Because these items can spread the virus, the Boston Police Department (BPD) is urging residents to properly dispose of all personal protective equipment. Those who don’t do so could face a fine.

“Officers will use discretion and common sense to investigate any situation case by case,” said the sergeant.

To ensure the safety of both its staff and citizens, District E-13 officers are following suggestions presented by BPD, the Boston Public Health Commission and other agencies. These include wearing personal protective equipment and modifying the ways they interact with each other and with the public. As of March 30, 22 BPD employees had tested positive for the virus, according to a report by the Globe.

But while officers on the frontlines of the epidemic fight to keep the community safe, predators are using the crisis to their advantage. The BPD wants to help residents protect themselves against opportunistic criminals.

-Scams

The BPD is warning residents that scammers of all kinds are poised to prey upon the collective fear. Scams can take the form of educational emails purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other professional organizations. Clicking links in those emails can compromise a computer’s security and can relay sensitive information to scammers.

Other emails attempt to obtain the recipient’s credit card number by pretending to offer a legitimate service, such as financial assistance, COVID-19 treatments, or at-home COVID-19 testing kits. Some claim to be soliciting charitable donations for pandemic relief. These are known as phishing scams.

Potential phone or internet scams should be reported to the District E-13 police station at (617) 343-5630. However, if a resident receives a visit from someone asking to enter their home or take their personal information, they should call 911 immediately, as this could pose a more urgent threat.

-Package theft

Due to social distancing and stores being closed, an increasing number of residents are getting items delivered to their homes from online stores. The BPD wants to remind people that leaving parcels unattended on a front stoop or inside a storm door can create the opportunity for a thief to make off with groceries and other essentials. Residents are urged to have packages delivered to a side door, back porch or other location not visible from the street.

-Domestic Violence

Abusers use social isolation to control their victims and to keep them from the people and resources that could help them. District E-13 recognizes this and knows that state-recommended social isolation can put victims of domestic violence at greater risk. They encourage residents who may be in danger to call their Domestic Violence Unit at (617) 343-4959.

-Commercial vandalism/Burglary

With fewer people on the streets, robberies will be less prevalent. But Northeastern law professor Daniel Medwed believes that a decrease in foot traffic in commercial areas may lead to an uptick in vandalism and break-ins to shuttered businesses. The installation of security cameras and security placards can deter would-be criminals. In addition, anyone who witnesses suspicious activity outside of a shuttered storefront should notify the police.

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