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Monroe County deputies field fewer domestic violence, theft calls in March amid pandemic

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There are three categories of crime that law enforcement authorities around the country are watching closely as the coronavirus pandemic wears on — domestic violence, mental health calls, and theft.

Each is thought to be particularly susceptible to the crisis, as stay-home orders have forced partners who have a history of abuse to hunker down in place, heightened anxieties, and cost jobs that could lead some people to desperation.

But calls to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in those categories fell in March compared to last year and their three-year rolling average for the month, according to the office.

“It’s almost hard to believe,” Sheriff Todd Baxter said Thursday in a phone interview.

Calls to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office for domestic violence, mental health issues, and thefts fell in March, countering a trend across the country amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Calls to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office for domestic violence, mental health issues, and thefts fell in March, countering a trend across the country amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The 194 reports of theft in March represented a 15 percent drop from the previous year, when there were 229 calls, and an 18 percent decrease from the average for the month from 2017 through 2019, according to statistics provided by the office.

Reports of domestic violence fell 10 percent year-over-year to 215 calls from 238 calls, and dropped 19 percent from the average for the month between 2017 and 2019, when the office fielded a mean of 266 calls, according to the office.



The office received 69 mental health calls in March, a significant drop from the 96 the office got in March 2019, but was flat compared to the three-year-average of 70 calls for the month.

“One month, that’s nothing significant, but they didn’t go up for sure and that’s pretty incredible, I think,” Baxter said. “That’s a great testimony to who we are as a community.”

He cautioned, however, that the numbers were “rudimentary” and were not a reflection of crime in those categories across the county.

The numbers represent only calls for help placed to the Sheriff’s Office, which serves a huge swath of the county but not all of it. Rochester and its larger suburbs like Brighton, Greece, and Irondequoit have their own police forces.

Still, the data counters what some other police agencies around the country have reportedly seen since the outbreak, particularly in the areas of domestic violence and mental health.

Meaghan de Chateauvieux, chief executive officer at Willow Domestic Violence Center, said the figures were alarming because they suggested that victims of domestic violence may not be seeking help. 
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“In this time of uncertainty, when people are isolated in their homes with their abuser, we know there is an increased danger level,” she said.

Willow provided data that showed calls to its hotline during the last two weeks of March outpaced those in the first two weeks. Whereas the hotline received an average of 16 calls a day in the first two weeks, the daily average climbed to 18 in the last two weeks. The latter half of the month included eight days in which the calls topped 20.

Overall, though, calls to the hotline were down year-over-year for March, to 525 from 609.

De Chateauvieux said the proportion of calls from people seeking emergency shelter — an indication that trouble inside the home had reached an inflection point — was significantly higher, however.

She said that since March 15, when the response to the pandemic began to ramp up in New York, 54 adults and 63 children have been added to a waitlist for shelter.

“I like the sheriff’s optimism, but I can tell you it scares me that he’s not seeing calls because it means people aren’t reaching out,” she said.

David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.