April 3, 2020


PERF’s COVID-19 coronavirus resources, including past editions of the Daily COVID-19 Report, are available at https://www.policeforum.org/coronavirus.


State-by-state COVID-19 fatality projections

Before we get into today’s topic of domestic violence, we’d like to direct you to a source of information regarding COVID fatalities in each state, produced by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

By clicking on this resource, https://covid19.healthdata.org/, you can see current data, and future projections, for your state regarding COVID-19-related deaths, as well as the numbers of hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators that will be needed in your state.

The projections include estimates of when COVID deaths are expected to peak in each state, how many deaths will occur every day, and how quickly, or slowly, deaths will decline after reaching their peak.

To see your state’s projections, click on the box at the top of the webpage, “United States of America,” to see the drop-down menu for all states. 


Changes in Domestic Violence Calls, and the Police Response, in the COVID Environment

Recently, we received a sad reminder of the dangerousness of policing, particularly when responding to domestic incidents. Commander Greg Carnicle of the Phoenix, AZ Police Department was killed in the line of duty on March 29 when responding to a disturbance between roommates.

As cities and states across the country have adopted stay-at-home orders, there’s been a growing concern among police that there will be an uptick in domestic disturbances, especially incidences of intimate partner violence.

In today’s COVID-19 Report, we’ll see how agencies are handling domestic violence calls in the context of the pandemic, which cities are seeing increases, and how the victim advocacy community is responding during the pandemic.  


Tucson, AZ Chief Chris Magnus:

The COVID virus is not a free pass to commit crimes.

“Our goal is to ensure that no bad actors are under the illusion that they have a ‘free pass’ during this difficult time. Our officers and detectives continue to issue citations, make arrests, and investigate crimes.  

Special victims of all kinds, including children, the elderly, and victims of domestic and sexual violence, remain a high priority.”


Communities across the country have been seeing increases in domestic violence calls.


Saco, ME Chief Jack Clements:

Alcohol appears to be a factor.

 “Calls involving domestic violence and family arguments are starting to increase. This appears to be due to people not going to work, the stress related to possibly losing their jobs and income, and being confined in their residence with each other.”

“The domestic violence calls also appear to be linked to more alcohol consumption.”


Topeka, KS Chief Bill Cochran:

“Domestic violence calls have probably increased by about 5 to 10 a day.”


Gloucester Township, NJ Chief David Harkins:

“We saw a 33% increase in the number of domestic violence incidents when comparing early March to late March.”


However, not all communities are seeing this increase…

Mokena, IL Chief Steven Vaccaro:

“Domestic violence has decreased since the COVID-19 outbreak began. This one is difficult to explain, but maybe this is only the calm before the storm. The next 30 days will be telling.”


Spokane, WA Chief Craig Meidl:

“We haven’t seen any significant increase yet, but I speculate that at some level, with the economy being what it is, if more victims are out there, they may be afraid of the financial impact if their abuser is jailed. There’s always a concern for victims if the primary breadwinner is arrested, but the current economy may amplify that concern.”


Ensuring that changes in operations do not reduce protections against domestic violence

Many police and sheriffs’ departments are looking for ways to reduce jail populations, in order to allow for greater social distancing within jails and reduce interactions that could result in spread of the COVID-19 virus within jails.  Often, these strategies involve avoiding arrests for misdemeanors.

However, many agencies are making sure that they do not relax enforcement of domestic violence laws.

For example, in Santa Cruz, CA, new Standard Operating Procedures for the Coronavirus response allow officers to use alternatives to arrests for misdemeanor offenses in an effort to reduce the jail population. But this new policy lists 10 exceptions, including domestic violence offenses and violation of a domestic violence restraining order.

In Topeka, KS, the Police Department released revised guidance on how to handle calls during the coronavirus pandemic, classifying calls by the level of response they warrant. Domestic violence is one of six crimes warranting the highest level of response, designated Field Response Level 1.

In Alamance County, NC, the Sheriff’s Office suspended all warrant service, with the exception of domestic violence warrants and issues of public safety.


Reaching out to victim service agencies

As domestic violence calls increase, it is important that victims continue to receive services. Police departments are contacting their local victim service organizations for updates on services that are still available during the pandemic.


Rockford, IL Chief Daniel O’Shea:

We’re working to ensure that domestic violence survivors are still protected during the COVID crisis.

We’ve reached out to victim services through our Domestic Violence investigation unit and our mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention (DVHTP).

“DVHTP has been in contact with our domestic violence shelter to confirm that beds are still available, and has coordinated with our city Human Services Department to ensure that housing and hotel vouchers are available if the shelter is not an option.

“Additionally, they are working with our sexual assault agency, which is continuing to respond to rape survivors in crisis and for virtual counseling sessions.

“The PD and the city have also launched targeted social media messages with new phone numbers for survivors to text if they cannot safely make a call. When survivors contact those numbers, they are navigated through services, advised of current direct service level situations, and referred to direct service agencies. Finally, we are working with Children’s Safe Harbor [Rockford’s service that provides a safe place for families to use when exchanging children for visitation]. We’re handling issues that arise on a case-by-case basis, when abusers attempt to use the COVID situation as an additional power and control tactic.”


Spokane, WA Chief Craig Meidl:

Our victim service providers are finding alternatives to face-to-face meetings with victims.

We have been in communication with providers and victim advocates in our area.

“They have, for the most part, ceased face-to-face contact with victims, but are finding workarounds through phone contact.

“We have 4 officers assigned to our domestic violence unit, and they are helping to fill in the gaps, contacting victims and suspects after a DV incident, and still being a presence for supporting victims and deterring suspects from re-contacting victims.”


Buffalo, NY Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia:

Transporting domestic violence survivors to a shelter is an issue we’re working on.

“I have had several phone calls with a local women's shelter on how we will provide transportation for at-risk women.

“The concern is for our officers who may be called to transport a woman to a shelter who may be COVID-positive or symptomatic, where they have no other means of transportation.

“We will not leave anyone in a dangerous situation, but we also need to protect our officers so they do not pick up COVID, which can then wipe out a platoon.

“We will do everything we can to keep survivors safe, but we are trying to be smart about it too.”


Apex, NC Chief John Letteney:

“Right now, there is not much change in the number of domestic violence calls. We anticipate a potential increase as additional measures to encourage people to remain at home are put in place.

“Our Victims Advocate and team are teleworking but remain in contact with victim service agencies and the courts, who have also curtailed hours of availability.”


Clearwater, FL Chief Daniel Slaughter:

Shelters are still offering emergency placement. Contingencies exist to place domestic violence victims at hotels if necessary.”


Ensuring Continuity of Protective Orders for Victims

Protective orders provide victims with legal protections from their abusers. Because many courts are closing or reducing services, victims may not know how to obtain these protections. Police departments are working with their local court systems to ensure that there is a process for victims to obtain protective orders during the pandemic.


Salisbury, NC Chief Jerry Stokes:

The courts have reduced what they are handling significantly, but orders for protection are still being issued.

“We are fortunate to have had video hearing capabilities in place prior to the pandemic. This has been helpful, maintaining that service without having to schedule an in-person hearing for an order to be issued.”


Rockford, IL Chief Daniel O’Shea:

Victims can still obtain protection orders, with online review by judges.

“Victims can remotely obtain emergency orders of protection, stalking no-contact orders, and civil no-contact orders. Once issued, these orders remain in effect for 21 days, which is the longest possible time period allowed under state law.

“Both parties are issued a Notice to Appear for the plenary hearing, but at this time, it is our understanding that at the return date judges are extending the emergency orders so in-person hearings are not needed. The emergency orders can be completed and then filed online, and as long as the respondent completes the document by 3:15 p.m., they have an opportunity for a judge to review the case the same day. The judge calls the petitioner, and the case is heard over the phone.”


Gloucester Township, NJ Chief David Harkins:

Our officers facilitate cell-phone interviews of victims by judges.

“Victims are brought to our lobby area, separated from officers by glass. An officer contacts the judge by department cell phone, and then the judge interviews the victim via department cell phone on speaker.

“The officer wears PPE during the process and records the entire encounter and phone call with their body-worn camera.”


Manchester, NH Sergeant Matthew Barter:

“The courts are still available for protective orders. Victims can also get emergency orders through the Police Department.”


Irving, TX Lieutenant Jason Dix:

Defendants in custody are still served with emergency protective orders. For situations where the offender is not in custody, the courts are reviewing cases remotely and issuing the orders.”


How Victim Service Agencies Are Adjusting to COVID-19

As police departments adjust their operations due to COVID-19, so too are victim service providers and organizations that provide assistance to advocates in the field. Following is a summary of what some of those organizations are doing, as well as useful resources that police departments can share with their officers and communities.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.

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