The Mercury News Weekend

COVID-19 drove down crime in the South Bay

Advocates continue to worry about plight of domestic violence victims

- By Robert Salonga rsalonga@bayareanew­sgroup.com

The COVID-19 pandemic that prompted an array of shelter-inplace and other movement restrictio­ns in the South Bay had a marked effect on reported crimes, with figures from several cities aligning with broader trends showing almost acrossthe-board decreases in violent and property crimes.

There were some notable exceptions to the downward trends, particular­ly in San Jose, where the homicide total rose from 34 in 2019 to 44 in 2020,

after a fatal shooting was reported Thursday. And inside a projected 5% to 6% drop in property crimes is an increase in commercial burglaries.

And advocates continue to draw attention to the plight of those suffering from domestic violence, an already underrepor­ted crime they say has created excruciati­ng scenarios given how the mortal dangers of the pandemic, and its economic impacts, have made it difficult for survivors to escape harmful environmen­ts.

“If you’re a low-wage worker and dealing with (abuse), it’s like a triple pandemic,” said Esther PeralezDie­ckmann, executive director of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence.

Based on the latest available figures, San Jose was on pace to record at least a 4% decrease in property crimes, though commercial burglaries were increasing modestly. The reasoning, police say, is intuitive: More people have been forced to stay home, decreasing opportunit­ies for residentia­l burglars who typically aim to avoid confrontat­ion, but stores and businesses are unstaffed or less staffed because of lockdown orders.

That has been true in several cities that provided crime figures for this story: Mountain View is projected to register as much as a 13% decrease in property crimes, while Milpitas and

Sunnyvale were heading toward drops of 4% and 8% respective­ly. Data complied by Santa Clara police suggest that the property crime decrease will be more than 20% and could be as much as 30%.

With v iolent cr ime, Mountain View is projected to decrease at least 9%, and Sunnyvale was looking at a 15% downturn in reported violence. One exception is Milpitas, where crime figures were trending toward a double- digit increase, based on an uptick in aggravated assault reports.

San Jose in 2020 presented a dichotomy with violent crime, heading toward a roughly 4% decrease in violence but a 22% rise in homicides from 34 to 44. It should be noted that the city’s yearly homicide totals are modest compared to similarly sized cities, and that 44 is above the median for the past decade.

SJPD homicide Lt. Brian Shab did not have a sure

fire explanatio­n for why the city’s homicides would not be suppressed by a pandemic that drove down other crimes, but he surmised that the often rash nature of fatal assaults are a likely factor.

“A lot of times homicides are spontaneou­s events,” Shab said. “They come out of encounters where people were not planning on it turning into a homicide, but then it does.”

About one-fifth of the year’s homicides are being treated as gang-related, according to investigat­ors. Shab added those occurred amid a backdrop in which city police are seizing illegal guns and ghost guns — firearms made from prefabrica­ted parts that are often untraceabl­e — multiple times a week, which he said is a dramatic shift from

when he joined the department two decades ago.

Domestic violence is difficult to measure by convention­al metrics. In the first few months of the pandemic, figures were all over the place, with some Bay Area police agencies charting an increase in reports and others tallying decreases. The consensus is that the occurrence­s have increased, with experts like Peralez-Dieckmann drawing on their familiarit­y with the pathology of domestic violence as a guidepost.

“Our call level has returned. Violence is escalating, with more serious abuse. Maybe people were able to live with the situation, but now it escalated and they’re no longer feeling safe,” she said. “We’re doing a lot of safety planning if they don’t want to go

to shelter, and if we’re full, for how can they stay safe.”

Currently, there are 62 emergency shelter beds for domestic violence survivors in the county distribute­d between Next Door, the South County-based Community Solutions, YWCA Silicon Valley and Asian Americans for Community Involvemen­t.

Pera lez-Dieck ma nn stressed that Next Door and its fellow support organizati­ons remain open and can be reached 24 hours a day. Naturally, they have had to limit face-to-face visits when possible, and PeralezDie­ckmann said they have had to respond to COVID-19 scares and cases within her organizati­on’s shelter, but that their protocols have held firm.

Under the umbrella of Next Door, Rose Martinez helps run El Comite de Mujeres Fuertes, a group made up of five domestic violence survivors who have turned their experience­s into inspiratio­n to conduct outreach in the greater Santa Clara County region. Prior to the pandemic, they were routinely handing out flyers and informatio­n cards, and holding workshops to increase domestic violence literacy among physicians and community advocates, with an trained eye on the Latino population to help people overcome cultural taboos with acknowledg­ing and identifyin­g abusive households.

With their reach restricted by COVID-19 safety concerns, Martinez says her group is pushing through, trying to reach people via Zoom and workshops with the improvised dual goal of educating people about both identifyin­g and seeking help for domestic violence and busting myths about COVID-19.

The latter is especially important, Martinez said, because she’s gathered anecdotes about abusers exploiting pandemic fears as a means of control.

“We still need to get awareness out there, even with COVID limiting the way we get the informatio­n out, especially to the people who need it,” she said. “Anything we can do to get the word out there. For every person we reach, it’s one less person who has to go through the terror we went through.”

 ?? NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF ARCHIVES ?? San Jose police investigat­e a fatal double stabbing at a shelter at Grace Baptist Church in downtown San Jose on Nov. 22. Homicides in San Jose rose from 34in 2019to 44in 2020.
NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF ARCHIVES San Jose police investigat­e a fatal double stabbing at a shelter at Grace Baptist Church in downtown San Jose on Nov. 22. Homicides in San Jose rose from 34in 2019to 44in 2020.

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