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            Domestic violence spikes as other arrests plummet during shutdown

            Massarah Mikati and Steve Hughes, Staff writers

            ALBANY —  Arrests in the Capital Region have plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic with one disturbing exception: a jump in domestic violence.

            Domestic violence is increasing as people try to stay safe from the virus at 体彩app官方网站, where police say a different danger lurks. And once the outbreak wanes and victims can leave their 体彩app官方网站s, law enforcement and domestic violence advocates expect the number of reported incidents to climb even more.

            "Victims of domestic violence are also a vulnerable population right now," said Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "If they’re with someone who abuses, and they no longer have the ability to distance themselves from somebody who abuses, then they’re even more vulnerable to that abuse than ever before."

            But while abuse calls rose most every other crime dropped during the first weeks of the pandemic and government demands that people stay 体彩app官方网站 to slow the spread of the virus.

            Local police departments say they have mostly made minor changes in how they operate, encouraging officers to write citations rather than make arrests.

            In Colonie, perhaps the busiest suburban police department in the region with one of the busiest town courts in the state, arrests were down roughly 70 percent since the outbreak began in March, Lt. Robert Winn, a police department spokesman, estimated. Colonie Center, the main commercial hub and a magnet for shoplifting, shuttered on March 19 and the town court is reduced to only essential matters.

            State data shows that other departments are seeing a similar drop.

            The measures designed to halt the spread of the virus, including the widespread shutdown of businesses and bans on mass gatherings, led to a 35 percent drop statewide in felony and misdemeanors arrests from Feb. 26 to March 24, compared to the same time period for 2019 in eight counties in the Capital Region, according to preliminary numbers provided by the state Division of Criminal Justice 体彩app官方网站.

            The state data only records the top charge and total arrests that require fingerprinting. So if a person is charged with a felony and a misdemeanor during an arrest, the state only records the felony.

            In Albany County, which typically sees the highest number of arrests in the region, felony and misdemeanor arrests fell during that period from 553 in 2019 to 305. The decline only accelerated as the region shut down. During that last week, March 18-24, the county had just 22 arrests compared to 123 arrests in the same period the previous year, the state data shows.

            The same pattern played out in other counties. During the last week of data, total arrests dropped 68 percent in Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties from 415 in 2019 to 130 in 体彩app官方网站.

            The decrease has likely only accelerated since then. The state saw its first confirmed case of coronavirus on March 1 and didn't begin shutting down mass gatherings until weeks later. As of March 15, some churches were still holding in-person services and many shopping centers hadn't closed.

            Domestic violence incidents spike

            While keeping people off the streets has kept arrest rates down in the Capital Region, holing them up in their 体彩app官方网站s may be leading to spike in domestic violence incidents.

            Albany has seen a 40 percent increase in domestic-related incidents through the first three months of 体彩app官方网站 compared to the same period in 2019.

            In March, as the shutdown progressed, the city went from 156 domestic calls from March 5-17,  to 168 calls from March 18-30, spokesman Officer Steve Smith said.

            “Domestic violence is always on our radar, it’s something we take very seriously,” Smith said.

            Smith said the police department’s response to domestic violence is still at full capacity despite coronavirus, but that some operations have changed. For example, when people call the police to report an incident, they may be asked about their health — fever, a cough, etc. — by dispatchers so responding officers know what they’re walking into.

            The Rensselaer, Albany and Schenectady county sheriffs all said their departments have seen an uptick in domestic violence reports, however they each said the increase was not statistically significant or a cause for alarm.

            Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo said he expects domestic violence reports, as well as mental health calls, to increase within the next week or so.

            Compared to last year, domestic-related incidents in Albany County have increased about 20 percent, Sheriff Craig Apple said — an increase his office expected.

            “It’s not the end of the world,” Apple said. “Folks are confined to their house, tensions are high, people are bored out of their minds, there’s been nothing violent — they’ve been mostly verbal.”

            The state also expected to see a rise in domestic-violence cases, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

            "This is a recipe for disaster," Hochul said. "If you feel that your life is threatened, you need to call 911. We have a domestic violence hotline that we want to have people calling."

            Apple said he is ensuring victims are connected to the services and help the county provides.

            But some experts warn that the calls represent just a fraction of the actual domestic violence incidents taking place.

            “One of the most important things to remember is that even though we are indeed seeing that increase, it’s not common for survivors to call the police,” Glenn said. “My concern is more for those who haven’t reported and what they might be enduring as a result of COVID.”

            ‘Isolation is such a tactic’

            With orders to self-quarantine, opportunities for abuse are now essentially being delivered to abusers on a platter.

            “Isolation is such a tactic,” Glenn said. “Abusers now have better and more immediate access to survivors who aren’t allowed to leave their 体彩app官方网站s. That increases and intensifies the domestic violence.”

            As the social isolation and the financial impact of the pandemic take their toll, In addition, as difficult financial situations are exacerbated and self-quarantining takes a toll, they are adding to contributing factors of abuse.

            The pandemic's infliction of financial hardship and isolation is adding factors abusers can use for self-justification, advocates say.

            “Abusers make the choice to abuse,” Glenn said. “I always look at mental health, substance use, loss of finances, loss of job — all those things as risk factors. Now they have more of an excuse than ever before.”

            Not only are abusers more likely to begin or intensify their abuse, victims are less likely to seek the help they need.

            It’s not just that abusers may scare their victims about contracting or spreading COVID-19 if they leave the 体彩app官方网站. Victims may need to rely financially on their abusers even more than usual due to the economic impacts the virus. Advocates say victims are hesitating to file for — or are not being granted — stay-away orders of protection to limit the spread of the disease. They may not have the privacy needed to make calls and they are concerned about contracting the disease if they leave their 体彩app官方网站s for shelters.

            “Victims are having to negotiate the lesser of two evils right now,” said Christine Rodriguez, director of domestic violence services at Equinox.

            However, domestic violence advocates stressed that their services are available despite the pandemic.

            During his daily COVID-19 briefing Sunday, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and Karen Ziegler, director of the Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center, urged county residents to take advantage of the services available around the clock to victims.

            “We’re happy to talk with you, to do safety planning with you, to work on how to get you to safety and resources available to you,” Ziegler saidg.

            Equinox has been working closely with local shelter services to ensure heightened sanitary practices and social distancing are put in place to protect residents. Rodriguez encouraged victims to contact their 24-hour hotline number, and said their counseling services, housing program and other resources remain available.

            But, like Russo, Rodriguez hypothesized that a large number of calls would start coming in once self-quarantine mandates are lifted.

            “The longer people are 体彩app官方网站, economically stressed and don’t have those avenues to get out and away from each other, I think we’re going to see a really big increase for the need for all of our services,” she said.

            Cayla Harris contributed to this report.