The Loki Effect: How Crime Became the Latest Crisis Blamed on the Pandemic

Below is my column in The Hill on the rise in crime, particularly “smash and grab” operations. This weekend, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was hit by business groups for denying that there is a rise in such crime. Absent such denials, however, the cause of the rise in crime remains a matter of fierce debate. The White House and others have reached for a familiar culprit: the Pandemic. Call it the Loki Effect.

Here is the column:

Crime is raging across the country, from violent attacks to brazen shoplifting to mob “smash and grab” attacks. The White House this week had a simple answer for the cause of this rising lawlessness: It was not “defund the police” efforts, or more restrictive policies for police and prosecutors. It was the familiar scourge cited in debates ranging from infrastructure to supply chains to tax increases — the pandemic.

The pandemic now seems to have reached the mythic level of gods who once were blamed for everything that went wrong in life. Africans had Anansi the Spider, while the Norse had the trickster Loki. Both were known to assume different identities to wreak disorder or steal precious things.

For politicians, it is useful to have a lurking Loki to explain that social problems are not really of their making, the result of their failures. The Loki factor was evident in the press conference this week when Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked about the rising lawlessness seen in major cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles: “Does the president still think that crime is up because of the pandemic?” White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied that “many people have conveyed that.”

Doocy persisted: “So when a huge group of criminals organizes themselves and they want to go loot a store — a CVS, a Nordstrom, a Home Depot until the shelves are clean — do you think that’s because of the pandemic?” Psaki replied: “I think a root cause in a lot of communities is the pandemic, yes.”

That damned Loki.

Whole stores have been ransacked by gangs, and the crime is sweeping large and small businesses alike. At the same time, shoplifting has reached such high levels in cities like San Francisco that stores like Walgreens are closing up due to the losses.

Yet, some in the media have echoed the spin that such brazen crimes are simply responses to the dire conditions caused by the pandemic. When the CBS morning news played a clip of a man nonchalantly clearing a shelf of hair-care products into a garbage bag and then riding his bike out of a Walgreens, co-host Tony Dokoupil insisted that it seems like “an act of desperation. I mean, you’re not getting rich off what you take from a Walgreens, you’re getting probably something you need. I don’t know the details of that particular case.” Indeed, the first priority for most people in a pandemic is to steal dozens of hair-care products.

It also appears that pandemic sustenance-gatherers felt compelled to grab $79,000-worth of purses from a Givenchy store in New York. Purses certainly do appear to be a COVID necessity across this accessory-deprived nation: When a gang hit Burberry’s on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, they ran past an assortment of clothing to grab high-priced purses, too.

Crimes have gotten so bad in New York that the CEO of Bank of America this week sent out suggestions on how employees should “dress down” and take other survival measures to avoid victimization. Citibank is offering car services to avoid having to walk the streets of the city.

For years, many of these cities have seen calls to “defund the police,” and many, like New York City, have cut police budgets. Groups like the ACLU insisted that “defunding police will make us safer.” Undercover units and gun-violence units have been eliminated; police practices, from the pursuit of certain suspects to traffic enforcement, have been curtailed or stopped. Prosecutors also have faced policy and legal changes on decriminalizationparole opposition and other law-enforcement limitations.

In some cities, like San Francisco, police largely stopped responding to shoplifting calls after state law was changed to make the theft of merchandise worth $950 or less just a misdemeanor. Career prosecutors have quit there after the election of District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who is blamed for a sharp decrease in prosecutions.

In New York, Democratic politicians have pushed through sweeping criminal reforms that include “clean slate” legislation that would seal criminal misdemeanors after three years and felonies after seven years. The convictions would later be expunged completely; millions of offenses erased. That includes violent offenses.

While many politicians still call for “reimagining policing,” that imagination does not extend to seeing a cause-and-effect with rising crime levels. Instead, it is the Loki effect of … the pandemic.

The fact is that most criminals are rational actors who make a calculus of risk in the commission of offenses. The mobs hitting stores like Bloomingdales are organized gangs. Even shoplifters stealing from stores like Costco and Target are known to quickly sell the goods on the internet through fences.

In 1968, University of Chicago economist Gary Becker wrote his famous article, “Crime and Punishment,” in which he argued that criminals make calculations based on both the certainty and the severity of punishment. If you increase the certainty or likelihood of punishment, you can achieve deterrence with lower levels of punishment. Conversely, if there is a low detection rate for crime, you can deter some crimes with higher levels of punishment.

What is happening in cities like San Francisco is that both the certainty and the severity of punishment has fallen below deterrence levels.

Consider the recent brazen smash-and-grabs at malls in the city, in which almost $350,000 worth of goods were stolen. After rising complaints from citizens, the city finally moved aggressively and arrested 14 people. Yet all were immediately released upon processing under “no bail” laws. If prosecuted, they expect relatively light sentences. For other felons, this is an easy calculation: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in goods can be stolen with a low likelihood of capture and a relatively low severity of punishment.

While the Biden White House may not see the cause-and-effect realities, these felons certainly see the cost-benefit realities.

We are all living in a pandemic, but most of us do not look for a Givenchy store to grab an essential diamond-encrusted purse. That is the action of someone who is certain about the value of the purse — but not about the likelihood of prosecution.

It still remains unclear whether this pandemic was man-made or just a natural occurrence. However, the rise in crime in our cities is strictly a man-made epidemic.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

177 thoughts on “The Loki Effect: How Crime Became the Latest Crisis Blamed on the Pandemic”

  1. What race are the California looters? I think it’s relevant. Just like it was relevant to ask who was behind the bombing of Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

  2. Democrats are wrong about EVERYTHING. It is foolish and dangerous to let them have any political power whatsoever.

  3. Jonathan: The last paragraph of your column speaks volumes about your willingness to rely on conspiracy theories rather science to explain the origins of Covid-19: “It still remains unclear whether this pandemic was man-made or just a natural occurrence”. Earlier in the year Pres. Biden ordered the US intelligence community to reassess the lab “leak” hypothesis. In August the requested report reached no definitive conclusion–but leaned toward the theory the virus has a natural origin–not in a bio-lab in China’s Wuhan province. To date that is still the consensus. Most scientists think Covid-19 made a “zoonotic” jump from animals to humans.

    But you keep fueling the Chinese conspiracy theory–backed early on by Trump who understood the pandemic could threaten his presidency. He called it the “China virus”, trying to divert attention away from his failure to treat the virus seriously and fighting state efforts to deal with it. Trump was suffering from what I call the “Columbo syndrome”. He wanted the famed TV detective to come in and force the Chinese to confess. That isn’t how science works. So stop fueling the attempts to “blame” China rather in dealing in facts!

    1. It did come from China. There is solid documented proof that Fauci knew and funded research for such nonsense at the Wuhan lab of all places, and we also know that the 500,000 vaccines that China sent us early in 2020 were also all infected with the virus. They had to be destroyed. So enough. Calling it the China virus was accurate. Wuhan virus is likely more accurate. The fact is the democrats have done nothing but exploit it, both parties lined their pockets from it and both parties took away freedoms and rights of the citizens for what can only be described as their grand experiment into mass population control.

      Its all Vuadville. The political version of the WWE. And most people are duped, carrying the water for one side or the other, while both sides pee in your pails.

    2. scientists think Covid-19 made a “zoonotic” jump from animals to humans.

      He says citing zero evidence and not naming a single scientist. Which is understandable because scientist are not allowed into China to do any scientific investigations.
      We do know China has conducted over 100,000 zoonotic tests and come up with zero. In scientific terms, No evidence of zoonotic transfer.

  4. Lawlessness is a function of the discipline of leadership, of which America has none. In America, Americans are persona non grata and America is an open-border, an international free-for-all. The American free-for-all is a function of the contaminated and corrupted vote. Never was America intended to suffer a one man, one vote democrazy, which is self-terminating. The Founders established strict immigration and vote criteria in 1788. Turnout was 11.6% by design. Ben Franklin told Americans they must resolve to “keep” the restricted-vote republic they were given. They couldn’t. They didn’t. It is likely too late to implement vote restrictions that would save the nation which is on the precipice of the abyss.

    “The lunatics have taken charge of the asylum.”

    – Richard Rowland

    “the people are nothing but a great beast…

    I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

    “The true reason (says Blackstone) of requiring any qualification, with regard to property in voters, is to exclude such persons, as are in so mean a situation, that they are esteemed to have no will of their own.”

    “If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.”

    – Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775

  5. Crime in places like San Fran were on the increase prior to the pandemic.

    With DA not wiling to prosecute, offenders turned back out on the streets hours after arrest, free to go commit crime again.

    Crime has even spread to wealthy communities, with the murder of Jacqueline Avant, in her Beverly Hills home. Oprah Winfrey, tweeted, “The fact that this has happened, her being shot and killed in her own home, after giving, sharing, and caring for 81 years has shaken the laws of the Universe,”
    “The world is upside down.”

    Now that crime has come to the wealthy, will they, the elite, demand something be done about it?
    Or just hire more private security, build more, higher fences/gates?

  6. We can make all the excuses we want to, for crime now running rampant. But, it is clear that bad policies…not Covid, is what is causing the spike in crime. Giving other reasons, just gives the criminals more incentive to commit more crimes. The more excuses are given for criminal conduct, the more crime there will be and the more people will turn to crime, seeing it as almost a heroic endeavor. My experience has shown that criminals do not like places where they are not welcome.

  7. If I may, two comments.
    It was Cesare Beccaria who first argued that it was the certainty, not the severity, of punishment which deterred crime. He also argued that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. He’s worth a read, at least John Adams and Thomas Jefferson thought so. A ‘bad’ law is one that cannot be uniformly enforced, leaving those who are caught feeling as if they were singled out for mistreatment, and those who are not as free as the birds in the field. Beccaria was arguing against severe punishment, much like some of the leftist reformers today, but he was not arguing against punishment. He merely wanted it to be rational and proportionate, and he wanted laws to be fair, so he believed that a thief should recompense his victim, not merely be put in prison, and he favored life in prison over capital punishment because the murderer would then have a lifetime to dwell upon what he had done. Perhaps worth a read; it’s a short book, and even Catherine the Great thought it was good enough to invite the Milanese philosophe to Russia to reform her penal system, while Voltaire thought it good enough to host him in Paris.

    As for The Virus — it’s infection fatality rate (the one that counts) appears to be between 0.15 and 0.2 percent, which is low according to the physicians I know, about the same as a bad flu season. There is also the anomaly that in 2020 (an election year), the number of deaths in the US rose from 2,854,838 in 2019 to 3,358,814, an increase of 503,976. About three-quarters of the increase was due to reports of Covid, which the CDC noted were “confirmed or presumed COVID-19 as an underlying or contributing cause of death.” So the 377,883 deaths associated with the virus were not from it — and that is important, since many died “with” the virus, and a number of other underlying conditions (kidney failure, heart failure, cancer, pneumonia . . . .).
    That still left 126,093 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, a very peculiar figure, given that from 2018 to 2019, the increase was only 15,633 and the average increase from 2015 through 2019 was 35,000 annually, with a low of 15,633 (from 2018-2019) and a high of 69,255 (from 2016 to 2017). Nobody appears to know what caused the extra deaths, but the sudden explosion of deaths either meant that something truly sinister was afoot or that the CDC has fudged the figures.
    I wish I knew which it was.

  8. The virus causing the rot in Progressive cities is Progressivism, not Covid.

    Covid exists in sanely run cities without the decay we see in ‘Progressive’ places like San Francisco.

    Progressive politics is a type of social gangrene.

    The decaying wounds and sores were predictable and, in fact, were predicted. No surprises at all.

    This is interesting:

    1. That leads to the question, did Nancy Pelosi buy a house in Florida? What would be pushing such a story? No one knows for sure if it is true or not. The rumors are all over that she bought on the East or West coast of S. Florida. One can’t be sure unless one sees her name attached, but one can’t be sure if no name is attached because it can be purchased under a corporate name or another alias.

  9. The Pandemic is like a lockpick.

    Sutton’s law: Why do people rob banks? Because that is where the money is.

    But, where is there even more money? Hillary discovered that as did many others, some before and some after.

    Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party __ Dinesh D’Souza,

  10. Well I wouldn’t completely rule out the pandemic as playing a partial role. Not the pandemic specifically but the govts reaction to it.

    The pandemic was used to shore up these big corporations, while simultaneously forcing the closing of literally millions of small businesses across the country. Pretty much all small business, ma and pop shops here in rural Virginia, are gone. GONE. Cafes and diners like the Salem Cafe, which was here for decades. Shutttered and closed. Dance studios, tatoo parlors in town, barber shops, cafes and diners, all gone.

    They said they’d give the businesses money, but they gave most of it to the big corporations and screwed the little guys. Even I had to shutter my tree practice and ended up going to work full time for one of my largest clients. Every small business that built up a practice through sweat, work and service was beaten down and shuttered by this nonsense pandemic they conflated with every death in America to frighten the easily panicked lemmings and the rest of us watched as small-town America was told to close its doors and make room for the big corporations.

    So I wouldn’t be surprised if the guy clearing the shelves at Walgreens wasn’t the former owner of a small mom and pop pharmacy or knick knack shop across the street. Not justifying it if he is, just saying I wouldn’t rule out the absolutely totalitarian response to this bullsh$t pandemic by the democrats as having some role in addition to the defund the police movements to account for the increased crime. They put a lot of people out of work and destroyed a lot of wonderful small family run businesses. They want everyone working for one of the corporations that they are trying to control. They gave us Obamacare so they could get medical records and information on every citizen. They wanted the IRS to hand them banking info for every single cent poorer American’s earn (and were shot down). They social media platforms to control our speech and dictate what we can and cannot talk about, see and hear.

    The republicans? A trainwreck. An absolute trainwreck of lunatic congressional members and fringe pundits, offering equal corruption (like how they robbed American small business with the loans) producing for their alternative President a New York elitist socialite playboy who never did an honest day’s work in his life and couldn’t put together a coherent sentence to save his life, as some sort of so called macho patriotic hero. So there’s not much in the way of alternatives. We’re supposed to be free people. The republicans make a good noise about freedom but when it comes to actually allowing it that noise turns into squawkin. But the democrats are openly and actively taking away our freedom right before our very eyes and turning us all into some sort of miniaturized melting pot version of China. And their voters are lapping it up, making it hard to get anyone to even understand the freedoms which are rapidly being stolen away, not in the middle of the night, but during the day, right before our very eyes. The thing is, watch. When the republicans are in office they talk about freedom, but they end up doing same things as the democrats. We started the lockdown under Trump, not Biden. He talked one way, but still locked down the country.

    It’s a diddling game. A media managed game of slap and tickle. Republicans give you a slap, democrats give you a tickle, but in the end the results the same. They both end up trying to stick it in your rump. And Americans are too busy being greased by one side or the other, to figure it out. Which is exactly what they want.

    Time’s ripe for a good man or woman to run for President, outside of the two totally corrupt parties we’re forced to choose from. I wonder if there are any left.

    1. The pandemic is less a cause than an excuse for shoddy behavior [by the government, which then filters down to us lowly citizens].

  11. “If you increase the certainty or likelihood of punishment, you can achieve deterrence with lower levels of punishment. Conversely, if there is a low detection rate for crime, you can deter some crimes with higher levels of punishment.”

    What is it that the left doesn’t understand? We hear the left’s arguments on the blog all the time, but they don’t make sense.

  12. Democrats said defunding the police would make communities safer.

    Well, did it?

    Are they going to be held accountable? Policies that lead to more crime, including murder, should make that party less popular. Will it more voters connect politics with results?

  13. Cause and effect.

    Here in CA, Progressive politicians raised the felony threshold to $950. Shoplifters can steal up to $950 with impunity. Cops won’t make an arrest, and the liability is too great to make a citizen’s arrest, so business owners are helpless.

    Take away the punishment, and you get more crime.

    With the no bail policy, organized major crime ring members are back out on the street within 24 hours. Back at it again.

    Theft is not a victimless crime. Even if the items are insured, that means that premiums go up until the policy is canceled. As the cost of doing business increases, with all that lost product, then prices go up.

    Shoplifting is so bad that my local small health food store had to build a little metal fence around the higher priced supplements. If you want to buy one, a clerk will take it up to the cash register for you.

    Democrat cities have a permissive attitude towards crime, and our society is crumbling. Businesses fold due to crime, riots, arson, and violence. That dries up jobs and opportunities. In response, Democrats jack up minimum wage to try to compensate for less opportunities. This makes it more expensive to do business, and the cycle continues, creating jobs desserts.

  14. Closing the schools was a definite factor in ramping up youth crime. Kids were turned loose onto the streets with no adult supervision. This lapse of social and moral development most affected single parent households and ones where both parents have to work fulltime jobs just to survive. For these youth, the cure to the pandemic was worse than the pandemic itself.

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