LIMA – With unemployment figures in Allen County ballooning in the wake of the layoffs due to the novel coronavirus, it’s not implausible to believe crime in and around Lima could rise at a corresponding rate.
More people with more time on their hands and making less money than they were just two short months ago is not an ideal scenario. Stress levels in households may be nearing the boiling point and pressure to put food on the table adds even more stress for some area residents.
“Based on my experience, when people’s patience starts to wear thin, that’s when we definitely see an increase in the amount of criminal activity,” Major James Baker of the Lima Police Department said Monday.
No such crime wave, however, has been experienced by Allen County law enforcement officials. On the whole, violent crime numbers in and around Lima during the pandemic are down from one year earlier.
Between March 1 and April 12, LPD officers responded to 60 reports of domestic violence, down four from the same time period in 2019. Assaults are also down — 46 this year from 49 in 2019 — and the number of burglaries dropped considerably, from 50 last year to 38 during the past five-plus weeks.
Only the number of robberies went up, a mild increase from seven to 12.
Andre McConnahea, spokesman for the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, agreed there has been no discernible surge in criminal activity in Allen County of late.
“Overall I think it’s been pretty good out there,” he said. “With more job losses and loss of income, there are concerns about what it will be like the longer this goes. People can get a little restless during times like this. We’re trying to provide a little extra visibility in high-traffic areas around businesses such as Walmart to deter thefts and potential fights and to make sure people are comfortable being out.”
Numbers are much easier to track when it comes to the number of citations or arrests by Lima police or Allen County sheriff’s deputies for violations of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s COVID-19 guidelines.
That number is zero.
Major Patrick Coon said Lima police officers have issued no citations or warnings for violations of the governor’s directives on essential businesses, stay-at-home mandates or social distancing.
“We are not going to be making any arrests,” LPD Chief Kevin Martin told The Lima News in late March. “What we will do is we will write a report on our observations, and we will forward that to the (Lima) prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor’s office can make a determination on whether charges would be warranted or not. They may not even decide to file charges … that would be their call.”
City Law Director Tony Geiger said Lima police officers are being instructed to encourage residents to voluntarily comply with health department orders, “and so far that has worked. Our education efforts have been quite successful.”
If necessary, Geiger said, LPD officers do have the authority to issue citations “just like in any other case.” Such incidents, he said, will be evaluated by prosecutors on a case-by-case basis and could wind up in Lima Municipal Court.
“It is a little complicated,” Baker said of enforcing health guidelines. He agreed that Lima residents for the most part have willingly abided by the state mandates without the threat of arrest.
“We’re very pleased about the number of people who are wearing face masks and obeying social distancing guidelines, and the amount of vehicular traffic is way down, which means people are staying home in good numbers,” Baker said.
McConnahea said deputies to date have issued no citations for violations of the governor’s mandates, nor have they been asked to do so. This is a public health issue,” he said. “We refer everything to Kathy Luhn at the health department.”
A message from the Allen County Public Health on the agency’s Facebook page states that violations of the governor’s stay-at-home provisions are enforceable by law enforcement and can carry a fine of up to $750 and/or up to 90 days in jail.
Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Juergen Waldick said violating a health department order is a low-level misdemeanor, which effectively tosses the matter back to Geiger’s court — literally.