As the number of COVID-19 cases grows in Blount County, so do the number of people arrested for domestic violence crimes.
The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed the state had its first case of COVID-19 on March 6. From that day until April 8, about 45 people were booked into the Blount County Correctional Facility on charges related to domestic violence.
From March to April, the number of domestic violence arrests increased by 63% while February to March had a decrease of 31%.
The data shows that since Tennessee reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus, more and more people have been picked up on these charges — with this number drastically increasing after Gov. Bill Lee issued a “stay at home” order.
Lee said in an April 2 press conference that local law enforcement agencies would be able to determine the legal actions brought upon people who disobey the order.
Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp told The Daily Times shortly after the order was signed that anyone who violates it is “subject to a citation.” Alcoa Police Chief David Carswell reported APD would take similar actions to enforce the order.
“If educating, persuasion and warning does not work, then the option of last resort would be to cite flagrant violators into General Sessions court,” Carswell emailed. “This is a bridge we hope we don’t have to cross, but the fact is there is that possibility a business or someone could be cited for violating the Governor’s Executive Order … .”
However, in a joint press release issued by the cities of Alcoa, Townsend and Maryville along with Blount County, the four agencies announced they would not be setting up checkpoints to ask citizens for travel documents while residents are outside their homes.
The agencies also have changed to certain procedures such as resolving non-emergency calls by phone and not responding to minor traffic accidents without injury.
But despite these changes, law enforcement agencies credit the spike in domestic violence arrests to the call to stay home, as mandated by Lee’s order.
“We contribute it to the fact that with the social distancing order in effect aside from essential activities, family units are spending more time together inside their residences,” Blount County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Marian O’Briant said.
Since the order was issued April 2, nine people had been arrested and charged with domestic violence or assault as of April 9.
These numbers match a national trend of increased domestic violence offenses. Such is to be expected during a time when people are spending more time together in close proximity, National Domestic Violence Hotline’s Chief Executive Officer Katie Ray-Jones said.
“While we don’t necessarily expect to see healthy relationships becoming abusive, our experience informs us that in homes where abuse is already occurring... we typically see a higher frequency of incidents of abuse and increased severity of abuse,” Ray-Jones emailed.
Ray-Jones added that the hotline also is concerned victims of domestic violence will not be able to reach out for help.
“We suspect that we may not see a surge in individuals reaching out until shelter in place protocols are lifted and as people start returning to work or school and are apart from their abusive partners, (until) it will be safe and private to reach out for support,” she said.
While there has been no increase in calls on the hotline, domestic violence arrests are still up. And fears are still high.
“Domestic violence is often the hidden secret and an issue that many people feel like it is not their business. However, survivors need all of us now,” Ray-Jones said. “Friends may be the only person other than the abuser, the survivor is in contact with. They can provide hope and let the survivor know they are strong and can make it through this difficult time, as well as pass on resources or safety information.”