Area law enforcement says overall crime is down, but concerned about child abuse increasing

The entrance to the Johnson County Sheriff's Office and Jail in Iowa City. Photo date:...
The entrance to the Johnson County Sheriff's Office and Jail in Iowa City. Photo date: Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (Taylor Holt/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Apr. 8, 2020 at 4:53 PM CDT
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Several area law enforcement agencies say they are overall seeing less crime, but they are worried that child abuse cases are increasing during this time.

"There's less traffic on the road, less people out and about," Detective Sgt. Brad Kunkel, with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, said. "We get a fair number of reports of people just walking into the Sheriff’s Office but those aren't happening right now."

Kunkel said that can be attributed to the 17% drop in calls for service at the Joint Emergency Communication Center in Johnson County from March of last year compared to this year.

"For the first week of the month we are into, there were about half the call volume that they normally are at," Kunkel said. "The OWI numbers are way down."

That downward trend in crime is not just specific to Johnson County. In Linn County, the total number of calls for service for March 16 through the 29 was 950, compared to just over 1,546 during this time last year. Civil and medical calls, traffic stops, and transportation topped the list of those calls in 2019. Welfare checks were included in the top five for this year.

One area where Kunkel said reports have increased, however, is domestic violence. Last March, they had eight reports. This year, it’s been 13.

The Iowa Department of Human Services said child abuse reports have also significantly decreased. Officials said they expect a spike in abuse with parents under stress and kids not in school and being seen by educators.

The first week in March educators made 342 reports alleging child abuse or neglect. By the last week of the month, it dropped to 5.

"We get a lot of reports about child abuse or sexual abuse reports that come from school staff either reporting it to us or to the Department of Human Services and since the schools are closed those one of our biggest mandatory reporters are closed, so that is a concern," said Kunkel.

Human Services officials said they are working with the Department of Education, encouraging comfort calls to check in on their students. They're also putting the call out to Iowans to report something unusual if they see something.

Kunkel said the decrease hasn't changed their operations, and they want people to know they are still working to take calls and keep people safe.

"I think there is a lot of reports out there being delayed," Kunkel said. ”We want those reports now. If people are in those dangerous situations and they can make that call we’re here to answer that call doesn’t matter pandemic or not.”

If you believe the child is in imminent danger, you should call 911 immediately. People can also call the Abuse Hotline anytime at 1-800-362-2178.