Apparently, criminals in Omaha are missing the memo about staying home.
No stark changes have been recorded among the seven main categories of crime in Omaha since restrictions on public gatherings were implemented in mid-March.
“You can’t even say it’s statistically significant,” said Deputy Director David Van Dyke, who oversees the Omaha Police Department’s technical and reporting services. “Across the board, some weeks are quieter, but it’s not outside the normal deviation of things.”
For the crimes that the Police Department reports to the FBI — homicide, sexual assault, robbery, assault, burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft — the numbers don’t show a clear trend during the weeks that followed March 14.
On that day, officials announced the first community spread of COVID-19 in Douglas County, which triggered a shutdown of events with more than 250 people. Four days later, on March 18, Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people, with several exclusions.
Crimes occurring from March 29 to April 4 (the Police Department counts a week from Sunday to Saturday), which is the most recent information that was available, were at similar levels from weeks past, with a couple of exceptions.
Two homicides occurred that week — both on April 4 — which was the first time all year that more than one person was criminally slain in one day or one week.
Also notable is that the number of crimes the department does not have to report to the FBI, which include criminal mischief, theft by deception, trespassing, harassment and others, did not rise above 200 in the week of March 29 to April 4. In the previous eight weeks, the total of those crimes had been at least 10% higher.
However, slight changes were seen among various 911 calls and arrests.
Most concerning, Van Dyke said, is that child abuse calls are down 23% since March 15, a day before the Omaha and Millard Public Schools closed indefinitely. Teachers and school officials are mandatory reporters and make up 20% to 30% of those who file child abuse reports, said Omaha Police Capt. Anna Colon, who leads the child victim sexual assault unit.
“If a child is being abused and you know of it, we ask that you report it to police. No one’s going to look at you as being the nosy neighbor, getting in the family’s business,” Colon said. “It’s very worrisome knowing that those kids are possibly still being abused and we don’t know who they are. As long as COVID-19 has us isolated in the home, then that abuse is going to continue to go on.”
At Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts’ Tuesday press conference, the director of Nebraska’s Child and Family Services Division said the state’s child abuse hotline, 800-652-1999, has seen a 20% decrease in calls in the past month.
Stephanie Beasley said she was concerned that school closures, job losses and social isolation would lead to an uptick in child abuse cases.
“These stressors can create a recipe for child abuse and neglect,” she said at the press conference, asking people to be on the lookout for child abuse.
After that plea to the public, the number of 911 calls that day in the Omaha area about child abuse doubled, Van Dyke said. Calls also spiked last Monday when Ricketts talked about domestic violence. Since mid-March, daily domestic violence calls have been up between 6% and 10%.
A positive effect from people staying home and not hanging out at bars or going to parties is that driving under the influence arrests have dropped in recent weeks. Weekly DUI arrests from Feb. 2 to March 14 ranged from a high of 47 to a low of 36. The week of March 15, 35 DUI arrests were logged in Omaha. For the final full week in March, arrests dropped to 22.
“We’re seeing less traffic on the roads. People don’t go out as much. The bars are closed,” Van Dyke said. He added that collisions and officer-initiated traffic stops have also decreased.
Some of the officers from the traffic unit have been tapped to conduct coronavirus compliance checks, making sure that large groups of people aren’t gathering in public spaces, bars or restaurants. Wednesday, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said officers have done more than 500 compliance checks relating to coronavirus health directives, 50 of which have been at the now-closed city parks.
Other notable changes early on in the pandemic, Van Dyke said, are that disturbance calls to 911 are up 10%. Also, calls to the department’s telephone reporting squad, which handles low-priority and nonemergency reports, have doubled, from about 100 per day to 200. Instead of having officers go out to take reports, department officials have asked residents to call the department’s nonemergency number at 402-444-4877. That’s an effort to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
Van Dyke, his crime analysis unit and command staff are constantly looking at the crime data to see where they need to allocate officers based on the threats posed to the public.
Right now, that includes COVID-19.
“One of the biggest threats to our community right now is community spread” of the virus, Van Dyke said. “So that’s why we’re allocating our resources to try to prevent that.”
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