Coronavirus: The impact on crime and families

COVID crime and families
Imates stand in line during transportation. – Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller/The Texas Tribune

 

By MATT HIRST

The Dallas Examiner

 

Despite initial concerns of an increase in crime across the city of Dallas, the most recent numbers from the Dallas Police Department show a noticeable decrease in the majority of crime across the board. Yet, with many families at home all day due to the shelter-in-place order that came into effect on March 23 at 11:59 p.m., the numbers for child abuse, domestic violence, robberies against individuals and aggravated assault are still up.

At this time, many crime rates appear to be down in terms of month-to-date percentage differences compared to last year, according to the DPD’s National Incident-Based Reporting System Administrative – known as NIBRS – as well as COMPSTAT Crime Reports. In some cases, even year-to-date rates are down.

Decreased crime rates in terms of month-to-date data are as follows:

  • Aggravated assault not connected to family violence is down 37.50% MTD.
  • Aggravated assault related to family violence is down 71.43% MTD and down 9.21% YTD.
  • Business burglary is down 85.71%
  • Residential burglary is down 90%.
  • Violent crime during business burglary rates are down 100% MTD

In contrast, below shows an increased crime rates in terms of year-to-date statistics:

  • Robberies against individuals are up 25% YTD.
  • Non-familial aggravated assault is up 29.23% YTD.
  • Aggravated assault offenses are up 33.33% MTD and up 16.76% YTD.

However, in looking at the rates from January through April, crime overall – violent or non-violent crime – is down.

It is unclear what has contributed to the overall decreased rates; however, there are various opinions about the decline.

Some suspect the numbers may not be accurate, due in part to having less staff on-hand to process such data. When it came to assessing the violent sex crimes portion of the NIBRS report – rape, sexual assault, fondling and sodomy – there was scarce data.

There were others who attributed the drop in crime rates to the 2020 Violent Crime Reduction Plan implemented at the beginning of this year by the city of Dallas and DPD.

“So, crime before COVID was trending down, and I do attribute to Chief Hall’s Crime Reduction Plan and the team she put in place. I know those commanders pretty well, and they were really getting a handle on it in ways of working those high crime areas with the hundred-man task force they had assembled. So, that was actually working,” said Terrance Hopkins, president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas.

Deputy Chief Teena Schulz of DPD’s Crime Investigations Bureau generally agreed.

“So, there are several contributing factors. When we started preparing for Chief’s Hall’s violent crime plan, we started looking at data from 2018 and 2019 things in order to look at what we would deem our hot spots … And that’s where we decided we would do some deployment,” Schultz said. “So initially, starting off at the beginning of January when we deployed these officers, we looked at the crime trends, the time of day, the day of the week that these things are happening, and we based our deployments on data like that. Just an example, trying to make it evidence-driven versus just, ‘Hey, this sounds like a good plan.’ And so, as we jumped into January, and if you even look at February, our numbers were slowly trending down. They were going in the right direction, and I attribute that to the hard work of the officers because the officers are out there every day, putting in 110 percent, and they continue to do that.”

“When COVID started coming, there was that unknown, and I think we as a department started looking at taking the non-priority calls … that allowed officers to be free and not just tied to the radio to where they’re answering call to call to call to call during their entire shift. What that allows the officer to do is to be a proactive officer. Now, we’re not encouraging all of this extra contact and stuff like that, because we want our officers to be safe. But if they’re able to, instead of having to go call to call to call – they know their neighborhoods, they know their beats – they’re able to drive through those beats and just have that presence. That itself is a deterrent. So that’s why I say that it has different contributing factors. It’s putting the officers in the right spot based on data.”

Some suspect it could have been because the majority of residents are sheltering-in-place. Hopkins admitted that it was possible, but the opposite could also apply, though he couldn’t be sure to what extent either scenario played a part in the crime rate.

“Of course, I’ve never been through a pandemic, so we’re all dealing with something new there. I think it depends on where you’re at geographically and the size of your city has something to do with it,” Hopkins disclosed. “Normally in situations like this, you’re called to shelter in, and most folks are going to consent to that order, right? But then we have people that are not conforming to it … People figure, ‘Oh, I could still go out and play a pick-up basketball game.’ A part of society is not going to conform, just like another part of society is going to go out there and still commit crime.”

“I think Dallas is going to experience both sides of that equation. I think most folks are going to follow the guidelines that the city and state government and federal government are putting, but I think you’re going to have that segment that still decides to go and do what they want to do. And also, that level of criminal that is still going to go out there and try to take advantage of some of these times as well.”

Shultz paralleled Hopkins’ statement.

“I can’t say that COVID doesn’t have a factor,” she stated, saying that though most people are following the stay-at-home order, not everyone is staying at home. “We still had a murder. We have our robberies. We’ve had our aggravated assaults. So, it’s not a complete deterrent. But all these things, I think, combined are definitely taking our numbers and driving them down.”

Still, she stated she still gave all the credit the police officers.

“They’re coming to work, they’re in the right spots, and they’ve made some fantastic arrests during this time. I would say the number one reason for the decrease in our crime is our officers, but we do have to look at everything else too.”

Yet, when looking why certain crimes have not decreased or continued to rise, Hopkins considered COVID could have had an impact on those rates, as well. He stated that some robberies may be a result of either taking advantage of the situation or stealing to meet the needs of one’s family.

“It goes back to bare basics then. That’s just survival instinct,” he said.

“Then you’ll have the folks that are have been each other’s faces too long. The family violence numbers may start to come up here in a little bit, and I’ll knock on wood that that’s not the case right now. But when folks are, you know, kind of jammed in there together and they hadn’t been around each other… whether you’ve got that release to go to work or whatever, now you’re face-to-face for a couple of months, and sometimes that takes another turn.”

Crimes against individuals under the age of 17 are up 49.9% since 2019, based on information provided from January through April 5 by the Dallas Police Department’s sergeant of police, Sergeant Warren Mitchell.

It is thought that being “jammed in together” has had a negative impact on the rates of child abuse and domestic violence. Such rates were brought to the public’s attention by County Judge Clay Jenkins during his March 23 “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. He paused briefly to inform the public that, with children at home during school closures and caregivers home because they’re unemployed, the county has seen a spike in child abuse due to the financial stress and stress of being in close quarters brought on the pandemic. He went on to state that children would be a first priority during this critical time and warned that this would be the worse time to hurt a child.

“There are many families who reside within our community who are struggling right now and as such, at elevated risk for child abuse and neglect. Recently, one of our Parent Educators in Collin County reached out to a mother we serve,” said Ona Foster, CEO of Family Compass. “The first 30 minutes of this call consisted of the mother completely breaking down under the stress of having her children at home all day with no established routines, along with another set of children in the home since it is a multi-family household.”

“The mother sobbed on the phone while our parent educator allowed her to vent and process her feelings. Once the parent educator was able to get the mother calm, she worked with her to problem solve ways to reduce her stress, establish new routines in the home, and ensure that she could continue to provide support and care for her children.”

For many victims, whether it is child abuse or domestic abuse, organizations like Family Compass offer a great support system that they are struggling to find elsewhere. Family Compass is the largest child abuse prevention nonprofit in North Texas. It offers home mentoring programs, as well as community education and outreach programs throughout Dallas and Collin Counties.

On Monday, Tarrant County reported the death of a 3-year-old after experiencing physical abuse, the third since the shelter-in-place order.

“It is estimated that the rise in child abuse cases will be astronomical during and after this world crisis dwindles down. We also see domestic violence in a subsection of our cases and know that there is often a correlation of 40-60% between domestic violence and child abuse. So, we are certain that the spike in child abuse cases and possibly, child deaths will be devastating,” Foster said. “As an agency which exists to solely address the prevention of child abuse and neglect, we are working tirelessly on the front lines to ensure that our families are continuing to be served and supported, especially during this time of extreme crisis. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to move forward and help vulnerable children stay safe and remain out of the child welfare system.”

Foster advised that the best way to help others who may be at risk, is to check in with each other.

“We all need to reach out to people within our immediate sphere,” she instructed. “Call them, Face Time them, go for a walk, ask them how they are doing, connect and – most importantly – be present. The most important question is not ‘Are you stressed?’ but ‘What are your stressors?’ and ‘How can I help you figure out how to best cope?’”

“If someone suspects that child abuse or neglect is occurring, please call 1-800-252-5400. It is all our responsibility to report when we suspect. The truth is that this storm will pass. It may take a while, but we will get through this. The most important thing to remember is that none of us are alone. Help is just a phone call away. Together, we can get through this storm.”

 

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