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Domestic violence, burglaries increase during coronavirus lockdown

Police say tensions are heightened during pandemic

Domestic violence, neighborly disputes and burglaries are on the rise in La Plata County, a trend communities across the country are experiencing as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak.

Durango Police Department Cmdr. Ray Shupe said reports of domestic violence have nearly doubled between March 1 and April 9 when compared with the same time period last year.

During that timespan in 2019, Durango police responded to seven calls for domestic violence. This year, a stay-at-home order has possibly increased tension in relationships, resulting in 13 calls, Shupe said.

“And the intensity of the violence in these altercations is way up,” he said.

Nearly all domestic violence calls end in an arrest, Shupe said, a state law aimed at protecting victims. Alcohol and drugs are usually also driving factors.

“There’s a lot of tensions, financially and emotionally, and outside pressure that erupts into DV situations,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. There are a lot of resources out there people can tap into and get help.”

La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said in March and April 2019, deputies responded to four domestic violence calls. But for March and the first nine days of April this year, deputies responded to six calls.

“Obviously, (the coronavirus outbreak) is something no one has been through before in this generation,” Smith said. “And it’s very difficult when you’re cooped up in your house, but you have to find healthy ways to alleviate stress.”

Calls to the three main resources for women dealing with domestic violence – Alternative Horizons, Southwest Safehouse and Sexual Assault Services Organization – were not immediately returned Monday morning.

Instances of domestic violence are surging across the globe as families are in lockdown. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently said the spike in cases should be a key part to the coronavirus response.

“We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19, but they can trap women with abusive partners,” Guterres said at a virtual news briefing at United Nations headquarters in New York recently. “Over the past weeks, as the economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying surge in domestic violence.”

Calls to the Cortez Police Department were not returned Monday.

Police are also responding to an uptick in family altercations and neighbor disputes.

From March 1 through April 9, Shupe said Durango Police responded to 32 disturbances. In that same time period last year, there were just 15 calls.

Whereas domestic violence nearly always ends in an arrest, officers try to first mediate disturbance calls, especially at a time when law enforcement is trying to keep the jail population low.

“It’s case-by-case,” Shupe said. “We try to calm folks down.”

Recent calls have included sibling fights or conflicts between parents and their children. Officers have also seen an increase in people calling law enforcement on their neighbors who are being loud.

The story is much the same for the Sheriff’s Office.

In the first nine days of April, the Sheriff’s Office responded to 13 disturbance calls, up from eight during the same time last year.

“We’re seeing an uptick of people pent up and those tensions rising,” Smith said. “But drinking and getting into altercations with the ones you love is not going to be the answer.”

Other crimes on the rise are burglaries and thefts.

In March 2019, there were just four reported burglaries handled by the Sheriff’s Office, which covers mostly the unincorporated parts of the county, Smith said. In March of this year, that number shot up to 17 burglaries. In all of April 2019, there were two burglaries. In the first nine days of April this year, there were eight calls.

The burglaries are spread out all over the county, Smith said, mostly at storage units, empty homes and mobile homes. Deputies have been able to make only one arrest so far.

“My suspicion, and this is only my suspicion, is that there’s a lot of people who have been laid off, now trying to figure out how to make ends meat,” Smith said. “So some people may be turning to this type of activity to sustain themselves.”

Shupe said thefts are up too within city limits, from 50 reports last year to 61 this year.

Whereas child abuse is up in other parts of the country as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, law enforcement in La Plata County have yet to see a spike in reported child abuse crimes.

Shupe, however, said that might be because children are trapped at home and unable to report abuse.

“We may see an uptick when things are back to normal and kids can talk to teachers or councilors at schools,” he said. “Right now, they are just isolated and have no way to report.”

Because of the rise in domestic abuse calls, disturbance and thefts, the caseload is about the same for local law enforcement. Smith reported 2,045 total calls to the Sheriff’s Office in February, before the outbreak, compared with about 1,960 calls in March.

Meanwhile, officers and deputies are trying to keep themselves safe from the virus while keeping the community safe.

“It’s a difficult position we’re in, obviously,” Shupe said. “But I think our guys have a good camaraderie right now and a good attitude about things.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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