Systemic racism in police contact is an important driver of health inequities among the U.S. urban population. Hyper-policing and police violence in marginalized communities have risen to the top of the national policy agenda, particularly since protests in 2020. How did pandemic conditions impact policing? This report assesses neighborhood racial disparities in arrests after COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in Boston, Charleston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco census tracts (January 2019-August 2020).
In the week following stay orders, overall arrest rates were 66% (95% CI: 51-77%) lower on average. Although arrest rates steadily increased thereafter, most tracts did not reach pre-pandemic arrest levels. However, despite declines in nearly all census tracts, the magnitude of racial inequities in arrests remained unchanged. During the initial weeks of the pandemic, arrest rates declined significantly in areas with higher Black populations, but absolute rates in Black neighborhoods remain higher than pre-pandemic arrest rates in White neighborhoods. These findings support urban policy reforms that reconsider police capacity and presence, particularly as a mechanism for enforcing public health ordinances and reducing racial disparities.