Most local police departments say they seeing fewer calls for service during the coronavirus pandemic. And all are adopting tactics to reduce potentially contagious contact, including the optional release with a citation of low-level arrestees.
Police incident report databases in Atlanta, Brookhaven and Dunwoody, and self-reporting in Sandy Springs, show lower numbers of various street crimes and arrests during the start of the pandemic over the same period in the previous year. It can’t be said for sure the virus alone is taking a bite out of crime, and the lower arrests could be due to officer discretion.
“We have seen a decrease in calls to our 911 Center in the past week, but it’s still early in the event to draw conclusions from the limited data on hand,” said Atlanta Police Department spokesperson Carlos Campos.
Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan said his department has seen a reduction in calls and apparently in crime. Brookhaven is also seeing a drop in calls, according to police department spokesperson Sgt. Carlos Nino.
“We have definitely seen a decrease of calls for service,” said Nino. “I do not have any specific numbers but there’s definitely a drop.”
The Sandy Springs Police Department is the only one to report calls for service remain the same. “Looking at the end of week report for calls for service, we are still averaging the same number of calls for service,” said department spokesperson Salvador Ortega.
All of the departments are looking at ways to enforce the law while reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“Our officers have been encouraged to write citations or copies of charges on most non-violent crimes when possible – most importantly, when there is no danger to the public – so that we can work together to keep jail employees and inmates healthy,” said Campos, the Atlanta Police spokesperson. “We continue to enforce the law and make physical arrests when necessary.”
Grogan, the Dunwoody chief, said low-level offenders are being released “on a copy of a citation in place of a physical arrest.”
“However, we are not ignoring criminal activity or failing to act when appropriate,” he said. “I am providing direction to our staff on these issues on a daily basis. As you can imagine, a lot is going on right now.”
“Sandy Springs PD remains committed to enforcing the law and preventing crime,” said Ortega. “Officers still have the power of discretion and in some cases, where appropriate, officers can issue a summons to offenders instead of making a physical arrest.”
In Brookhaven, “The chief has instituted a set of special orders that allows officers to release on citations for misdemeanor charges/traffic charges to minimize transports to the jail,” said Nino.
The Brookhaven and Sandy Springs departments are also handling non-emergency calls by phone rather than in-person visits when possible.
Pandemic crime numbers
The following are numbers of crimes reported in various key categories in local cities before and during the pandemic. The Atlanta, Brookhaven and Dunwoody numbers come from public databases. Sandy Springs does not offer direct access to a database and instead self-reports through police and city public relations departments and the city manager’s office.
Atlanta Zone 2 (Buckhead)
March 1-19: Burglary: 10; robbery: 5; larceny from vehicles: 97; stolen autos: 33.
Same period a year ago: Burglary: 21; robbery: 7; larceny from vehicles: 111; stolen autos: 37.
March 8-22: Arrests, 23; assault, 11; larceny/theft/shoplifting: 34.
Previous two weeks: Arrests: 55; assault: 24; larceny/theft/shoplifting: 63.
Same period a year ago: Arrests: 35; Assault: 12; larceny/theft/shoplifting: 56.
Week ending March 20: Breaking into car: 7; arrests: 24; burglary: 1.
Similar period a year ago: Breaking into car: 16; arrests: 24; burglary: 6.
March 8-22: Theft/burglary: 34; assault: 11; arrests: 50.
Previous two weeks: Theft/burglary: 41; assault: 14; arrests: 67.
Same period a year ago: Theft/burglary 31; assault: 14; arrests: 71.
–John Ruch, Kevin C. Madigan, Hannah Greco and Jaclyn Turner