Violence inside the home becomes a concern in O.C. as ‘adverse effect’ of stay-at-home order

Local News

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is seeing a spike in calls related to violence inside homes despite an overall drop in calls for help from deputies, authorities said Thursday following the daily release of new figures showing coronavirus case counts and deaths.

Sheriff Don Barnes said calls were up as follows compared to the same time last year: domestic violence, up 25%; family disputes, up 24%; and child custody disputes, up 30%.

Those increases come despite an overall drop in calls into to Sheriff’s Department dispatch by 17%, and decline in general calls for service by 36%. Procedural changes that reduce face-to-face interactions can account for much of those declines, Barnes said at the county’s twice-weekly coronavirus briefing.

“I remain concerned about the adverse effect these stay-at-home orders has on those who are vulnerable to domestic violence and also child abuse,” Barnes said.

District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he was worried about the potential as well for elder abuse and sexual abuse. Many people are stuck in their homes and under stress like they have never before seen, he said.

“There’s going to be a point of time where society cannot handle this amount of pressure and things are going to go badly,” Spitzer warned. “People’s patience is going to grow thin.”

He later noted that — because schools are closed — mandatory reports of suspected child abuse have stopped.

“So, when people are isolated in their homes, behind closed doors, there’s things that are going on,” Spitzer said. “When we get through this, over time, there’s going to be situations that have emerged and we learn about — that we’re all going to be shaking our heads.”

Earlier this month, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva expressed similar concerns about a drop in child abuse reports. And L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has also emphasized what a dangerous time this is for domestic violence victims, and has raised funds to help pay for shelter for those fleeing violent homes.

Spitzer on Thursday did praise O.C. residents’ overall response to the crisis, noting they’d obeyed health orders and declined to engage in “civil disobedience” or price gouging.

Both Barnes and Spitzer expressed frustration with a statewide order that bail be reduced to zero for many offenders, and the sheriff focused particularly on the order’s continuation for 90 days after the governor lifts the coronavirus state of emergency.

The county’s jail population has dropped to 3,309, a 38% decline since March 7, Barnes said. And, in the last 2 1/2 weeks, 385 low-level offenders have been released 30 to 60 days before the end of their sentences, he said.

Barnes had previously said the county would not release jail inmates to prepare for coronavirus. That was before an April 6 Judicial Council decision to set bail at zero for some offenses.

Three deputies assigned to the jails as well as 17 inmates have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the sheriff.

His comments came after the county announced its latest COVID-19 figures, showing 1,425 confirmed cases in the county, with 25 deaths, three of which were reported Thursday.

The county has 51 new cases, a steep drop from Wednesday, when 87 news cases were reported.

The highest number of new cases reported occurred on April 1, with 104.

“Case counts will fluctuate day to day,” the county cautions on its webpage where coronavirus statistics are shared. “It is important to look at trends over time when reviewing these data rather than drawing conclusions from any individual data point.”

Meanwhile, the county has struggled with its plan to house homeless people in hotels during the pandemic. Residents in Laguna Woods and neighboring Laguna Hills have both protested plans for the county’s use of local hotels.

A judge had been expected to weigh the use of the Laguna Hills Inn on Thursday, in a case in which the city sued the county, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Times reported the county had offered in court to temporarily halt efforts to use the inn. A further hearing was postponed till Monday, county Executive Officer Frank Kim said at Thursday’s news conference.

In the Laguna Woods case, the Ayres Hotel backed out of a deal with the county after a backlash from local residents. Laguna Woods Village, a large nearby retirement community, had like Laguna Hills sued in that case.

The state allocated $50 million to help localities secure hotel housing for homeless people across California, after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced “Project Roomkey” on April 3.

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