CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Chesterfield County Police Department (CCPD) reported a decrease in burglaries in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic from the previous year, in line with the statewide data that was published in Virginia State Police’s (VSP) Crime in Virginia report.

However, local authorities expect crime trends to change as COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted in 2021.

According to Crime in Virginia reports, CCPD recorded 651 instances of burglary/breaking and entering in 2019, and 579 instances of burglary/breaking and entering in 2020. Through May 31, 2021, the department has reported 208 burglaries.

“Criminals can be clever,” Corporal Craig Eckrich with CCPD’s Crime Prevention Unit said. “They don’t live in a bubble, and they know that as restrictions loosen up, people are going to be going back to work, that kids are going to be going back to school.”

Throughout Virginia, burglaries decreased from 2019 to 2020 by 18.4%, according to VSP. Of the 11,413 burglaries and attempted burglaries last year, more than half took place at night, between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., a reverse pattern from 2019, during which 54.8% of burglaries occurred during the day.

“Most of the time, burglaries happen during the day because people are at school, they’re at work, they’re out running errands. They’re not at home, and criminals want the easy target,” Eckrich said. “In 2020, of course, we were fighting COVID-19 and everybody was at home. The only time when they were less likely, perhaps, to encounter resistance was at night when the homeowners were maybe asleep or not on their guard so much.”

According to the data compiled and released by VSP, 52.2% of burglaries throughout Virginia in 2020 took place at night between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., a reverse pattern from 2019 during which 54.8% of burglaries occurred during the day. (Photo: Virginia State Police)

This shift could also explain why VSP reported a 7.3% decrease in residential burglaries throughout 2020.

The Crime in Virginia showed that, in many of the offenses, there were security measures in place. In 776 burglaries throughout the commonwealth in 2020, there was a camera. While the data revealed that 2,291 victims locked their doors, 674 did not.

“A burglar alarm’s always a good idea. Our homeowners and our citizens that have pets, dogs are a great deterrent,” Eckrich said. “If your door’s locked, they don’t want to risk breaking a window because that’s sound, that’s noise, that’s going to attract attention. Simple things such as keeping the hedges next to your house trimmed below the window level — don’t give bad guys somewhere to hide.”

In line with Eckrich’s insight, the statewide data showed that a door was the most frequent point of entry, as well as the most frequent point of exit, for burglars in 2020.

He said that it’s also important for individuals to be on the lookout for anything suspicious, and call authorities for assistance.

“We get calls for suspicious people, we get calls for things that don’t look right. So our community is very involved,” Eckrich said. “A lot of times, we’ll catch things as they’re happening or before they’re happening. It’s hard to measure a negative, so we don’t know how many things we might have deterred that may have just been a suspicious person call that would have turned into something else, had not one of our citizen called us.”

Just a few miles away from Chesterfield County, the Richmond Police Department (RPD) is hoping that community involvement will help decrease crime rates, as well.

Chief of Police Gerald Smith spoke at a press conference on Monday, addressing crime in the City of Richmond for the second quarter of 2021. Overall, he said, property crimes are down. But that wasn’t the case at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We saw that go up during the COVID [pandemic], and when COVID went up, commercial burglaries go up,” Smith said.

According to the Crime in Virginia reports, RPD recorded 990 instances of burglary/breaking and entering in 2019, while the department recorded 782 such instances the following year.

In most cases, Eckrich said that burglars are looking for valuables that they can grab quickly and get out without attracting much attention.

“A lot of our thefts are driven by drug addiction,” Eckrich said. “They’re looking for quick money or quick items that they can turn around to get money to feed their addiction.”

But regardless of their intention, for those who do encounter a burglar, Eckrich urges individuals not to engage.

“Get somewhere safe, to a safe room, preferably with a telephone, lock yourself in the room, and call the police and tell them that there’s an intruder in your house,” he said. “Things can be replaced; you can’t. There’s nothing in your house that’s worth your life.”