Pa. police see jump in domestic calls, mirroring national trend

While crime nationwide has fallen by 25% during virus shutdown measures, reports of domestic violence increased by 5%

David Hurst

SOMERSET, Pa. — Although area streets are quiet, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, some law enforcement officials say domestic calls have risen over the past month.

"With people being at home more, tensions are higher within households – and that can create problems for those that may not be equipped to deal with it," Somerset Borough police Chief Randy Cox said.

"I'd estimate our number of domestic calls is up by at least 50% lately."

While most couples are able to adapt to the challenges created by stay-at-home guidelines meant to protect people from sharing or spreading the new coronavirus, daily household stresses can compel couples to take their frustrations out on one another or their children, Cox said.

And not just in western Pennsylvania.

In a release to media, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for a ceasefire against women and girls earlier this month after reporting "a horrifying surge in domestic violence" globally during the pandemic.

"Many women under lockdown for COVID-19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes," he wrote on Twitter.

An analysis by The Economist, a London-based newspaper and online analytics provider, showed that while crime has fallen by 25% during virus shutdown measures, reports of domestic violence increased by 5%. The Economist tracked more than 100,000 police calls in Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis and New Orleans.

Cox said a rise in domestic calls also means increased risk for police officers.

"Statistically speaking, disturbances like domestic calls – on a national level – are the most dangerous calls officers handle," Cox said, noting responders are dealing with people whose emotions are running high. "They're more likely to be assaulted responding to a call like that than any other incident."

Cox's department handled 10 domestic calls over the past month. Somerset police averaged approximately seven calls per-month before that, he indicated.

Johnstown Police Chief Robert Johnson said his department's domestic calls have remained steady.

"But because we're getting such a lower number of calls in general, I think the domestic calls we're still getting are standing out," Johnson said. "For the most part, I think people are trying to make the best of the situation we're all dealing with."

Trooper Cliff Greenfield, a public information officer for the Pennsylvania state police troop that oversees Cambria, Somerset and Indiana counties, said people now struggle out of sight because they are in an isolated environments – perhaps living with an abuser.

He urged people to reach out for help if they themselves are overwhelmed by the stresses around them.

"We understand families are going through periods of stress they may have never experienced before," Greenfield said. "For anyone who believes they may be in a violent situation, there are resources available."

Greenfield said some individuals and families might need mental health support.

"We urge them to call for help right away," he said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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