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COVID-19 taking a bite out of Region crime?

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Griffith Officer Robert Carney

Griffith police Officer Robert Carney pulls over a vehicle while on patrol earlier this year.

The growing number of residents hunkering down at home across the Region to help curb the spread of COVID-19 may be having the unintended consequence of slowing crime as well.

"Less people are on the roads, and within this week, less crime has been occurring," said Cpl. Benjamin McFalls of the Porter County Sheriff's Department.

"We believe this situation has reminded our community how to cherish what we have and that life is fragile," he said. "Our officers are ever ready to protect and serve our citizens during this evolving situation."

Gary police Cmdr. Jack Hamady said his department also has experienced a small decrease in the number of arrests that he attributes to fewer people out and about.

But his department also is among those in the Region attempting to protect jail populations from exposure to the coronavirus by reducing arrests in cases of nonviolent and low-level offenses.

The department is "long forming them," he said, which amounts to issuing a summons to later show up in court, as opposed to carrying out an arrest, he said.

The department also is attempting to limit exposure of its officers by closing its lobby to walk-in traffic and encouraging the public to use online resources where possible, Hamady said. Local crimes can be reported through the department's website, and crash reports can be requested online with the Indiana State Police.

Officers with the LaPorte County Sheriff's Department also are exercising discretion in issuing summons, as opposed to conducting arrests when appropriate, police Capt. Derek Allen said.

The department is seeing a lower number of arrests as more people are staying home and off the roads, he said.

"I think it's going to continue trending in that direction," he said.

"That's a good thing," he said of the decreased traffic, especially during peak periods. "They don't have to be out and around."

Porter police Capt. John Lane said his department is receiving far fewer calls from residents seeking assistance or other types of intervention by police.

"This may be related to individuals isolating themselves to their own residences and having less interaction with others that could lead to conflict and disagreements," he said.

"Vehicle traffic volume has also been greatly reduced as many are staying at home," Lane said. "This directly correlates to less potential for violations and fewer vehicle crashes."

Bar and restaurant closures contribute to fewer people out during late hours, he said.

While offices are still out patrolling and operating at normal staffing levels, minor reports are being taken over the phone when possible to reduce exposure to both police and the public.

"We are pleased that the residents of Porter are taking this well and making the best of the situation and remaining calm and getting along with each other," he said.

In compliance with steps to reduce the jail population in Lake County, Hammond police are temporarily processing nonviolent offenders at the city jail and releasing them with a court date, Lt. Steve Kellogg said.

"This does not apply to dangerous or violent activity such as battery, domestic situations, operating while intoxicated and others," he said. "This applies only to nonviolent, misdemeanor arrests."

Officers are also using gloves for every contact, and protective masks are available if necessary.

"The Hammond Police Department is doing everything possible to help control the spread of this disease while still ensuring that the streets are safe and the neighborhoods are protected from crime," Kellogg said.

The Portage Police Department is receiving the same number of calls as it did this time last year, but fewer involve criminal activity and more involve citizen wellness, Sgt. Rob Maynard said.

City police officers have been instructed to file warrants or issue summons for low-level, nonviolent crimes, he said. The officers also have been told to handle nonemergency complaints and those not in progress by telephone when possible.

Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. said the number of names on the daily booking report from the jail do not necessarily reflect the number of arrests in the county, as a result of the use of summons.

"COVID-19 will not curtail our efforts to maintain safe neighborhoods throughout Lake County," he said. "Our officers are not intentionally arresting fewer people because of the COVID-19 epidemic."

Precautions are underway to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the jail, and there are no known cases at the facility, he said.

County officers have been given information on how to protect themselves from exposure to the virus, he said.

Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail


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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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