The Sylva Herald, by Beth Lawrence

A number of cities and counties statewide have reported drops in crime since the state was put under a stay-at-home order.

Jackson County has reduced reports of some crimes while others have not changed.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has seen a reduction in overall incidents, but could not directly attribute the change to quarantine.

“We took about 150 fewer incident reports in March and April of 2020 compared to 2019,” said Maj. Shannon Queen. “We are unaware this is directly related to COVID-19. The number of college students who live in the off-campus housing in Cullowhee primarily stayed gone during these months.”

A breakdown of the numbers showed that some types of crimes stayed the same. Physical assault numbers were largely unchanged.

Larceny reports dropped by 15 during the same period. However, motor vehicle thefts dropped by almost half, Queen said.

A new category of reports filled in the gaps when officers were not answering other calls, reports of people violating state orders.

“We have experienced overall very good community cooperation with all of the restrictions placed by the emergency orders,” Queen said. “The increased calls could be attributed to primarily misinterpreted understanding of the orders.”

One area in which service agencies expected to see a rise in reports was claims of child abuse and domestic abuse.

“As far as the child abuse reports go, we show no increase,” Queen said. “But we would not expect to see those increase as those are typically not reported while the child is in the home. Most child abuse reports that we would consider to show an increase would not likely be reported until school returns in the fall.”

The Sheriff’s Office believes that the downward trajectory in crime will change.

“We feel that when our population numbers get back to the average population based on students and vacationers, we will see our number totals level out,” Queen said.

Domestic calls to 911 stayed largely the same, said Wanda Hall, director of Jackson County 911 operations. There were 57 domestic calls from April 1 through May 19 in 2019. In the same period this year, there were 48.

The Sylva Police Department also reported that domestic abuse calls were on par with previous years with a possible small decrease.

Domestic violence numbers may have remained flat because victims are reaching out directly to agencies for help.

REACH of Macon County currently handles domestic violence cases for Jackson. The agency saw an increase in calls to its hotline during quarantine.

“I ran the numbers for March 1 to present to compare 2019 and 2020; hotline and crisis calls are up in 2020 by 150 percent,” said Jennifer Turner-Lynn, director of REACH.

Nights spent in emergency shelter have increased by 100 percent, and shelter clients have grown by 85 percent.

“In general, at the present moment, we are seeing a large uptick in requests for shelter and crisis calls response to those experiencing interpersonal violence,” Turner-Lynn said. “It would be hard for me to separate out Jackson and Macon for crisis calls because all calls come into the same hotline.”

She cannot make a definitive connection between stay-at-home orders and a rise in calls for service, but Turner-Lynn believes there could be a “casual relationship.”

SPD also reported a “slight” decrease in some crimes, said Lt. Detective Aimee Watson. “The number of fraud cases and child abuse cases dropped,” she said.

Calls for larceny remained level. Drug related calls remained steady as well, Watson said.

The lockdown did appear to impact criminal activity or at least reports of it. Watson also expects numbers to return to normal as orders are lifted.

“Our calls for service in general had decreased during this time but seem to be picking back up,” she said. “At the beginning of the stay at home order people were very cautious and seemed to be staying at home or limiting their time in contact with others to a minimum. As time has gone on, there has been an increase in people going out of town more.”

SPD has not seen an issue with local businesses failing to comply with state and local emergency orders.

“The businesses in the city limits have been following the rules and guidelines sent down from the governor,” Watson said.