"Many calls are related to questions about masks or reporting people not wearing masks."
A mid-year crime report for National City includes a new type of service call. Since March, about 225 calls to police were made under the new code for things like neighbors not wearing face masks and gatherings without social distancing.
It's not the only way the lockdown has changed crime numbers this year.
Police Chief Jose Tellez presented the numbers to the National City Community and Police Relations Commission on November 19, starting with calls for service. When a call comes in, a dispatcher places it into a category of priority, setting the clock for a response.
"We're pretty busy," he said, and compared to last year - busier than ever.
From low to high priority, there were almost 28,000 calls last year. In just six months in 2020 there have been 29,000 calls, and by the end of the calendar year there will likely be 16,000 more. Each one requires an officer to respond or make contact with the caller.
Covid-19 calls for service became an official call type in March, when the city began tracking them by the month. Tellez said there has been a lot of curiosity about the new category and the volume of calls.
"Many of these are related to gatherings, questions about masks or reporting people not wearing masks or going into essential businesses not wearing a mask."
An initial surge of such calls was followed by a slowdown that didn't last. In March, 44 calls. In April, 110. Then it reversed, dropping from 61 calls in May to only 10 in June. "But since June we're averaging about 33 calls per month."
Violent crimes - homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault - and property crime make up most of the information collected by SANDAG in their mid-year report for the region. According to the agency's population-based formula, National City's violent crime rate was slightly lower this year than in 2019.
But National City police received 24 more violent crime calls this year, an increase partly due to domestic violence, Tellez said. The city includes both simple assaults, which don't result in serious injury, and aggravated assaults in their numbers. Both were up.
SANDAG doesn't count simple assaults in its calculations, Tellez said. Even without them, the analysis for the entire region shows that domestic violence reports over the six-month period were 3% higher in 2020 than in 2019.
"Domestic violence is a big concern on an ongoing basis; more so now with Covid." It's one of the city's top three crimes, he said. Calls are sorted into nine categories such as verbal, violent, and urgent welfare checks. Of these, a few went down while domestic dispute reports jumped from two last year to 13 - up 550 percent.
"We were drastically higher each of the first six months compared to last year," Tellez said. There were 339 actual cases in 2020 compared to 231 the year before.
They believe, anecdotally, that the pandemic is behind the changes. There's been a lot of stress on families. More people are staying home, people have lost jobs, and there's stress about children being out of school, and virtual instruction.
One bonus to being housebound has been a drop in home burglaries. But the pandemic still cast shadows. As more businesses sat empty, commercial burglaries went up. Property crime rose six percent.
Then there is the uptick of mental health calls. These, placed in categories like threats or brandishing a weapon, don't always yield a police report. If the person may harm themselves or others they are taken into protective custody or to a hospital or psychiatric facility.
"Month after month, except for May, we've been exceeding our numbers from last year." There were 546 cases this year; 488 last year.
Child abuse was another area commissioners asked about. While the numbers aren't far off from last year, Tellez added a caution. Many of the cases that get reported to police come from teachers, school nurses, counselors, "and because children are not in school, we actually believe this number is higher," he said.
"And if you connect these numbers to the domestic violence numbers, there is a likelihood that this number is really under-reported right now. We may not know the actual number of child abuse cases until children go back to school."