Law enforcement, advocates say domestic violence on the rise as coronavirus pandemic continues

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ALBANY COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Streets where police would usually be patrolling on the crime watch are silent as folks isolate over coronavirus.

“You know, the nuisance stuff, that’s down. We expected it; there’s been nothing really violent,” says Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

Sheriff Apple says crime is low just as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during one of his latest coronavirus briefings. Lt. Bob Winn, of the Colonie Police Department, says assigned cases are down by about 140 and there have been 180 fewer arrests compared to March of 2019. However, Sheriff Apple says the county has seen a big upswing of domestic violence calls — almost 30% more than usual.

“We knew on day one that that was going to happen. I mean, when you have people confined in a small space for an extended period of time, nothing good is going to come from that. Then of course we kept liquor stores open and beer stores open, so now introduce liquor and beer to that equation,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

“You have people who may be in need of meds, who haven’t gotten their meds; maybe people who are drinking or using other substances, which can impair their judgment and affect their ability to consider other alternatives,” says Karen Ziegler.

Ziegler is director for the Albany County Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center. She says her staff has been taking just as many worried calls from people trapped in bad situations. Ziegler says the pandemic causes a perfect storm for stress and more than just domestic violence.

“We’re also seeing an increase in child abuse, which is definitely a concern, and we are hearing about that. I think we’re probably also going to be having an increase in sexual violence and elder abuse. We may not be hearing, yet, but I do anticipate on the other end hearing a lot of stories,” she explains.

She says she understands worry over the pandemic may affect already tough decisions.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it compounded those fears, not wanting to go out and get sick, but also not knowing whether or not to get out and leave. The majority of homicides happen around the time of leaving, so it is a very difficult choice for many,” she explains.

Ziegler reminds the public that domestic violence resources and shelters are considered essential, so their help is only a phone call away.

“People can call the hotline 24/7. We will call them right back. We are available for telephone counseling, which is new for us, but we’re able to do it. We just opened a Zoom account, so we can do meetings and other types of telephonic communications,” she says.

She also suggests using online resources for exit planning and setting up a phone code or signal to friends and neighbors to indicate you need them to call police.

“In the middle of all this, you know, there’s still bad people and those people will continue to do bad things, but it’s our job to go out there and get them. We are still responding to all emergency calls,” assures Sheriff Apple.

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