SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Last week, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said overall, crime was down during California's stay-at-home order. However, law enforcement officers and county leaders confirmed that they are seeing a spike in domestic violence calls and crimes, county-wide.
"For the most vulnerable people in our community 'shelter-in-place' is the same as putting them in a cage with a violent gorilla," said Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley.
Dudley said she is extremely concerned about an increase in the types of crimes that are happening in homes, behind closed doors, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We will see an increase in domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, animal abuse, spousal rape," Dudley told reporter Beth Farnsworth. "We're gonna see that increase but we're not gonna hear about it because usually it's the community that reports these crimes when children go to school, when people see their friends, when people are in a situation where other people see what's going on."
Now, teachers, childcare providers and, friends are physically cut off from the people and children they normally are in contact with daily.
Dudley said seeing businesses shuttered and paychecks halted has put intense pressure and hardship on a growing number of people and families who are becoming increasingly depressed. Many are self-medicating at home with drugs and alcohol.
Couple that scenario with school closures and children and spouses sheltering together at home can create an extremely hostile, even dangerous, environment for many families.
"Domestic violence is both predictable and preventable," Dudley said. "I am asking neighbors to step up. If you think for any reason someone in your community is being hurt, call 911."
Representatives with CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) are frontline responders for abuse cases involving children.
"We got 10 families reaching out for service in the last three days in Santa Barbara proper," said Alana Walczak, President and CEO of CALM. "And we've received 16 calls in North County, Lompoc and Santa Maria. We know the needs right now for families are great."
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office confirmed it received three additional requests for service over the weekend.
Walczak said each year CALM receives 5,000 reports of child abuse and domestic violence.
"We know the number of actual incidents is much greater," Walczak said. "4,000 of those come from Lompoc and Santa Maria."
While CALM's doors are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff is working remotely and in many cases, conducting video conferences with the families it's currently supporting as well as school therapists.
In the meantime, like Dudley, Walczak stressed that we are all neighbors and encouraged everyone to practice support and compassion.
"If we see anything or hear anything, if we have concern, check in."
Dudley urged people in dangerous or abusive situations to get help. She also had a direct message to anyone harming or tempted to harm someone else.
"If you're a perpetrator of these crimes, get out of the house and get some help."
If you suspect a neighbor or child is being harmed, use the following numbers or links for more information.
To report CHILD ABUSE: 800-367-0166
To report ELDER ABUSE: 844-751-6729
Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services: https://www.countyofsb.org/dss/service/child-safety/child-welfare-services.sbc
Elder Abuse: https://www.countyofsb.org/da/cp_elder_abuse.html
SB Co Animal Services: https://www.countyofsb.org/phd/animal/home.sbc