5 Ways Crime Is Getting Weird During This
While we all know this pandemic has changed the way we do pretty much everything, you probably haven't thought about how it changed crime. It turns out, it made some kinds of crime easier, other kinds harder, and even created a few weird new types of criminal activity ...
The Empty Roads And Highways Become Real-lIfe Fast & Furious Scenes
Around the world, streets and highways became long stretches of unused concrete in the lockdown, so street racers decided to turn them into their private race tracks. And random people joined in and just started speeding everywhere -- so, throughout North America, speeding tickets shot up as traffic fell. In two weeks in March, for instance, speeding tickets rose by 35%, and stunt driving skyrocketed by 200% in Toronto. At one point, cops even started trying to shame drivers by posting images of their radar guns (but we suspect that turned out to be counterproductive). And the whole thing, not unexpectedly, led to several deaths. Like on March 30th, when two cars crashed in a street race in Los Angeles, killing three men.
None of that is making dedicated racers hold off. People are meeting up at night more and more -- usually, in groups of 20 to 40 and racing for almost an hour. They stop at that point since the cops might start to notice if they kept going. With nobody around, they're going at crazy speeds and, as one racer says, you sometimes don't see anyone behind you or in front of you except the guys you're racing (and the occasional red turtle shell and banana peel).People are breaking long-distance racing records too. One team broke the 2019 record for the run from NYC to Los Angeles (the one from the movie
Lots of racers are up in arms about it, saying it's not a legitimate record because those guys had a unique advantage. But the guy who held the old record, Ed Bolian, acknowledged the 2020 one as valid -- and also said street racing isn't worth it right now, since it interferes with first responders and the police, and risks spreading the virus.
That's not an isolated attitude, though. While these folks might be completely lax in risk to crashing, they're very conscientious about not catching anything. In the past, meetups before night races were pretty wild and fun. People would hang around, challenge each other, try to join Vin Diesel's crew, and so on. These days, everything is a lot more subdued. Most spectators don't bother getting out of their cars -- the most they'll do is open a window. Truly, public health messaging reaches the most unlikely places.
Human Traffickers Are Just Shuffling Their Victims Around
Lots of human trafficking victims end up working in places like nail salons, car washes, takeaways, and so on -- basically, any industry that always needs new workers and doesn't have a high bar for entry. During lockdown, a lot of these places closed down, so ... human trafficking rings got rid of their victims, right? That's what trafficking experts believed would happen, but nope. Very depressingly, but not surprisingly for this terrible year, traffickers just found out new places to put their victims in that don't involve contact with the public.
For example, the UK's National Crime Agency's modern slavery and human trafficking unit thinks sex slaves were likely made to work on cam sites, while victims who did other kinds of work were probably sent to food preparation or agriculture. None of these industries are new employers of trafficking victims, but this kind of mass shifting of victims from one industry to another is a twist. Victims have no choice here -- they're so deep in debt to the trafficking ring, they'll go wherever the ring tells them to go for a job.
And these places can be very, very grim. For instance, take what happened to the victims of a Polish trafficking ring busted in 2019. They recruited "workers" and placed them on farms and in turkey-gutting factories and recycling plants. If you think the last two places sound particularly unappetizing, you would be right, but even the victims working on farms weren't in a much better position. All of them lived in run-down houses infested with rats and, in some cases, with no running water (the people who lived there had to wash in canals). The conditions were so awful that one victim died. And there was no way any of them could do anything about it -- as an example of what they were dealing with, the trafficking ring told one victim they'd sell his kidneys unless he stayed quiet about what was happening.
Unfortunately, these trafficking rings are so resistant to the lockdown that not even the shutdown of transportation kept them from moving more victims in. For example, in the UK, they suddenly started using tons of dinghies to move people into the country. It's getting even worse with better weather, says the UK's NCA, and calls it "the challenge that is facing us." Add it to the pile, then.
The Mafia Is Creating A Social Safety Net
In Italy, the Mafia used the lockdown as an opportunity to step in and do what the government couldn't. It's been helping those who need help the most, like people who had jobs in the black economy before the lockdown and who weren't eligible for help from the state. For Italians like them, the Mafia has been a lifeline in every sense.
The Mafia has established daily deliveries of essentials like bread and milk in the poorest neighborhoods in Naples. And they're not the only ones -- numerous Mexican cartels are delivering aid to poor people throughout Mexico (the Sinaloa cartel's packages even have an image of their legendary former leader, El Chapo). Besides food, the Italian Mafia is also basically handing out money -- they're giving out loans with interest rates of 50-70%, an absolute bargain compared to their usual rates. And people need money so badly that the Mafia is still making a profit at deep discounts.
They're even standing ready to help cash-strapped businesses, usually in return for some of the shares or a total transfer of ownership. Fortunately for the Mafia, lots of industries where businesses usually have thin cash reserves -- like tourism, catering, or construction -- also happen to often have a big Mafia presence. That means the Mafia often has a decent idea of who'd be a good target for an offer, which makes it likely that more businesses will have the Mafia's claws in them after the pandemic.
Of course, all these are just ways to make people more dependent on the Mafia. It's a classic move in their playbook -- at the start of the 19th century, when there was pretty much no effective government in Italy, the Mafia stepped in to ensure people had access to essentials. When this pandemic ends and people start going back to work, the Mafia is thinking, people are going to remember who was there for them in times of need (with some prodding to jog their memory, if necessary).
Fake Cops Are Using The Pandemic As A Pretext To Bully People
The pandemic has given rise to a ton of new trends, and one of them is impersonating a cop. Basically, people pretend to be cops and then stop others on the street -- usually to steal, or to harass women, or just to bully someone for a bit. Apparently, impersonating a cop is surprisingly (and worryingly) easy. You just need some items from the cop starter pack, like a Ford Crown Victoria, flashing blue lights, divorced dad Oakleys, and you're good to go.
This isn't totally new, but the pandemic is making it much easier to be a fake cop. Not only are people feeling a lot more scared and vulnerable than usual, but you have a lot more plausible-sounding reasons for stopping someone. For example, one fake cop pulled over drivers into an area bounded by traffic cones (which, presumably, he took the time to carefully set up), asked them for documents, and told one guy to explain why he was "violating the COVID-19 law." Another one pulled over a woman in Colorado because he was doing a "stay-home compliance check." Yet another one in Colorado walked up to a woman's car, asking her why she wasn't at home despite there being a stay-at-home order. You get the gist -- they'll just blurt out a random lockdown-related cause and hope that you roll with it.
This is pretty bad, as police departments really, really don't need any more reasons for people to be wary of the motives and of the legitimacy of someone who says they're a cop.
And the problem can be particularly bad for some groups: among, say, immigrants who come from a country where people generally don't have a great relationship with law enforcement, being bullied by a guy pretending to be a cop isn't a great start on changing that. To make things worse, those groups are often vulnerable, so fake cops might be targeting them specifically. So, all in all, morons masquerading as cops are helping kill what little trust people still have in the police.
The Lockdown Is Screwing Over Money Launderers
Since the lockdown shut down retail stores and reduced traffic to a trickle, it's been almost impossible for money launderers to do their thing. As anyone who's watched Ozark knows, laundering money basically consists of hiding some dirty cash among regular transactions, and when no transactions are happening, you start running into serious issues. As a result, the DEA is seizing way more money than it used to -- about 10 times more, in some cases -- and cartels are losing millions.
In NYC and the Los Angeles area, for example, seizures of money from launderers and cartels are way up this year. In LA, agents seized $10 million between March 1 and May 8 -- for comparison, in 2019, that figure was $4.5 million. And in NYC, the amount of cash they've seized is up 180% since 2019. The cartels have a pretty intricate laundering strategy, which the lockdown made impossible -- so cartels' money just kept piling up. The result? The DEA's cash hauls used to be in the $100,000 range. Now, they've been known to go beyond $1 million.
Buying goods in stores is the first step of the cartels' scheme in NYC. Those goods then get shipped to China, where Chinese criminal gangs receive them and then, typically, wire money to the cartels in Mexico. Why the run-around? Chinese bank wires are hard to track, and wiring money from the U.S. would be like holding up a copper stick during a lightning storm. All of that means that America's lockdown had the unexpected but welcome side effect of screwing over the Chinese mafia.
And money laundering isn't on its knees just in big urban centers, either -- DEA agents in Michigan and Ohio have similar stories. The amounts of money they're seizing aren't massive, but the place they're finding them is: lots and lots of money is being grabbed at airports. Apparently, launderers are trying to move hundreds of thousands of dollars by plane, which they've never tried before. Why? Well, in these states, cartels move money by literally driving it across the border, and that's much more dangerous with no traffic as you're a lot more likely to get spotted and pulled over if you're pretty much the only one on the road. Even if you avoid that, this doesn't factor in the possibility of getting into an accident with all the idiots street racing.
Top image: Bordovski Yauheni/Shutterstock