COVID and crime: Jeffco sees overall drop but domestic violence calls up

Mental health experts say stress and confinement are reasons to worry

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/14/20

From work practices to eating and drinking habits, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be impacting nearly every aspect of current life. In Jefferson County, that also seems to include lowering crime …

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COVID and crime: Jeffco sees overall drop but domestic violence calls up

Mental health experts say stress and confinement are reasons to worry

Posted

From work practices to eating and drinking habits, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be impacting nearly every aspect of current life. In Jefferson County, that also seems to include lowering crime levels — at least as far as Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office calls for service and arrest numbers.

Last month, the sheriff’s office received 9,979 calls for service. That’s down just under nine percent from the March 2019 total of 10,760. Arrests are down even more. In March of 2020, the Sheriff’s Office made 247 arrests, which is down about 25 percent from the March 2019 total of 320.

Those numbers do not represent a decrease stemming from Sheriff Jeff Shrader’s directive to start using enhanced arrest standards — being much more selective about whom to arrest — as those standards only went into effect on April 1. However, the sheriff had already asked deputies to use discretion in making arrests in an effort to manage the jail population due to the pandemic weeks earlier.

Domestic Violence

As stay-at-home orders have gone in Jeffco and counties throughout the nation, mental health experts have also expressed concern about the possibility that the anxiety, distress, confinement and other concerns that have come with COVID-19 would lead to large increases in domestic violence. But the domestic violence numbers for March 2019 and 2020 provided by the sheriff’s office paint a less clear picture as calls for service have risen while arrests have actually fallen.

In March of 2020, 83 domestic violence-related criminal justice reports were generated in the county. That number was up from 71 in March 2019. But the 33 domestic violence arrests the department made is actually two down from the 35 such arrests the department made in March of 2019.

But while those numbers do not paint a clear picture, Amy Miller, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the Jefferson Center, said the conditions are still right from a mental health perspective for an increase in domestic violence.

“I think the combination of the stress from the uncertainty and some of the financial strain people are experiencing can certainly heighten anyone’s level of irritability or tension or frustration and then you add that to the being cooped up with same people day in and day out and that’s a concern,” said Miller. “And if there’s been abusive tendencies in the past it would definitely increase the risk of that happening again.”

The pandemic situation also creates another concern in that victims and potential victims have fewer chances to escape a potential abuse situation by going somewhere else. Mandated reporters and others who might be able to interact with a victim and learn about any abuse that has taken place and the need to report it also now have fewer opportunities to do so, she said.

That latter issue means sheriff’s office data may be a less reliable indicator of the amount of such violence taking place in the county, even as deputies continue to respond to reports.

Some issues at grocery stores

Lakewood Police Department Public Information Officer John Romero said COVID-19 has not appeared to have a big impact on either overall crime or domestic violence reports and arrests specifically.

“I looked at March 2019 as opposed to March 2020 for domestic violence reports which I think is the number everyone has been looking at and I was actually pretty surprised to see there was a decrease,” Romero said. “In March 2019 we had 207 and in March 2020 we had 200.”

Golden Police Public Information Officer Joe Harvey said overall crime also seems to have been fairly steady. However, he did say his department was starting to see what he described as a “slight uptick in what we would describe as family disagreements and family violence.”

“At this point, it’s been nothing really too significant but we are anticipating that number may go higher as we go along in this process,” Harvey said.

Among the other issues the department has seen that Harvey said are obviously attributed to COVID-19 is a “handful of altercations in front of some of the grocery stores.”

As a result, Golden police are now regularly sending officers to patrol grocery stores, particularly during morning hours reserved for seniors as Harvey said some of those altercations had taken place then. Still, Harvey said he felt good overall about how the city was handling social distancing and the challenges that come with it.

“From what I’m seeing under the circumstances we are all facing think it’s been as good as possible and I don’t think we’ve had anybody that’s gotten really out of control,” he said. “I do think we’ve had some instances where we’ve had some people that were feeling distressed and overreacted in some scenarios that caused us some issues but I think those have been few and far between right now.”

Still, Harvey said he and other officers remain uneasy about the situation, particularly given the uncertainty about how long it could last.

“I think for the most part people are trying to do their best,” he said. But I’m not going to lie, I think all of law enforcement is a bit nervous about what this may look like in two, three and maybe four weeks, especially if pools aren’t being opened and the normal places that people are able to take kids.”

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