San Jose has seen a significant spike in crime during the pandemic.
The frequency of homicides, school burglaries, commercial robberies, reports of domestic violence and auto theft has increased since the onslaught of COVID-19, according to the San Jose Police Department.
Lieutenant Steve Donohue told the San Jose City Council Nov. 17 that out of the 37 homicides that took place in 2020, 31 happened within the March through October shelter-in-place period. In comparison, 24 homicides occurred from March to October the year before.
There also was an increase in gang-related homicides. Nine homicides were found to be gang related between March and October — the same as the total amount of gang-related homicides all year in 2019. Other smaller assaults and gang activity have decreased, he said.
Burglaries and theft
School burglaries have increased by a staggering 135%. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were 45 school burglaries citywide.
“In the same period last year we only had nine so it was a huge jump because kids weren’t in school,” Donohue said.
The department has assigned officers to increase patrols around schools and is encouraging school districts to remove valuables such as laptops and iPads from campuses. The burglaries are now leveling off to one to two incidences per week, according to Donohue.
“I’m glad to hear that the numbers have dropped,” said Councilmember Pam Foley. “It’s just so tragic when you hear about schools who have so little, then they lose their computers, technology and other things they need so desperately.”
Chris Funk, superintendent of East Side Union High School District, said he understands why burglaries are becoming more frequent: People are struggling and shelter in place has been going on longer than many people imagined.
“Our goal is to do everything we can to keep our staff, our students, our families safe, and provide them the necessary resources to get through this pandemic,” Funk said. “It’s unfortunate that others feel like they have to resort to crime to survive.”
Residential burglaries are down by 27% but COVID-19 has led to an increase in commercial burglaries, which have increased by 24% since March to October 2019.
SJPD has a burglary prevention unit actively seeking suspects, Donohue said.
Automobile theft is also up 20% from last year. Donohue said SJPD believes this is due to more vehicles being left unattended during the pandemic, particularly in high-density housing areas.
Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco was especially concerned about the rise in domestic violence incidents. There have been 286 cases of domestic violence during shelter in place compared to the 262 cases documented last year. The number of domestic rape cases also has increased from 13 to 36 cases.
“Women don’t have a lot of options right now in terms of where to go especially if they are very isolated,” Carrasco said. “COVID-19 has isolated us from our networks and our support systems.”
Donohue said the increase is due in part to a new system SJPD has put in place for reporting domestic violence and sexual assault. Victims have to fill out a question that also asks for any previous experiences with violence that was unreported.
Donohue said this has led the department to document cases that might have happened in the past, which are now included in this data set.
“Whatever we are looking at is probably a number that is most definitely underreported,” Carrasco said.
She said it was especially important for the city to partner with nonprofits and conduct welfare checks, especially now that the city has regressed into the purple tier of the statewide reopening plan.
Donohue said there was no clear correlation between COVID-19 and increases in domestic violence.
Carrasco was skeptical of the numbers, especially a statistic that showed a 63% decrease in child abuse cases (from 122 to 45 cases) since the start of the pandemic, again citing the potential for underreporting.
“This is the perfect storm: Isolation, financial stress, loss of job, mental health issues … and it makes victims even more vulnerable to the kind of violence that they’ve already been exposed to,” Carrasco said. “So making sure we have the tools to support them is going to be all the more critical.”
SJPD is planning to work with Young Women’s Christian Association and Nextdoor Solutions, an organization that helps those affected by domestic violence, to provide resources and services to victims.
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.
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