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In Boston, arrests continue to dip as pandemic rages on

Boston Police.
Boston Police.Aram Boghosian/For The Boston Globe/File

Amid the ongoing coronavirus menace, criminal arrests have continued to dip in Boston, with the number of people taken into custody recently by the city’s police department down by nearly 60 percent compared to last year.

Last week, between March 22 and 28, there 69 arrests by the department, according to Boston police Sergeant Detective John Boyle. Last year for those dates, Boston police arrested 167.

Earlier in the month, between March 11 and 18, Boston police made 123 arrests, versus 243 during the same period last year.

The recent numbers come during a time of significant restrictions to everyday life as government authorities look to slow the spread of COVID-19. On Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker extended his order to close nonessential businesses and his stay-at-home advisory to May 4.

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State Senator William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat whose district includes part of Boston, welcomed the news that arrests in the city are down. He said reducing populations in jails is imperative during the current pandemic.

“Jails are one of the hardest places in which to control infection because you have a lot of turnover in the population, a lot of people coming in and out and being confined,” he said.

Thomas Nolan, a retired Boston police officer who now teaches criminology and criminal justice at Emmanuel College, said he thinks the arrests trend in Boston would likely be found in cities across the United States in the time of COVID-19.

He said it might indicate that police recently are less inclined to engage with the public, which he said “was not necessarily a bad thing,” given the dangers of the pandemic. He also noted that “obviously there are far fewer people out in the street” because of the coronavirus.

Nolan said he was interested to know whether crime reported to police increased during periods where there were less arrests.

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“If the answer to that is ‘no,’ then one could fairly question: Is this a bad thing?” he said.

He suggested that arresting fewer people may be a model authorities consider once this crisis is over.

“If we did it during the pandemic, if we were able to keep communities safe while arresting fewer people, maybe that’s a strategy we can adopt moving forward,” he said.

The pandemic has changed some law enforcement practices. The Middlesex district attorney’s office, which represents the state’s most populous county, has called for arrests to be made only when there is no other option, and the head of the State Police has directed troopers to increase reliance on court summonses and mailed citations for some offenses.

In Boston, meanwhile, police are holding roll calls outside when possible and telling officers to complete reports where they can maintain social distancing, among a host of other measures being implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus within the ranks.

The department said Monday that 19 Boston police officers and three of its civilian employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Also on Tuesday, the state’s highest court heard arguments on whether to release certain categories of inmates in Massachusetts in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus in prisons and jails.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.