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Helena police: Overall caseload steady, traffic crashes down during COVID emergency

Posted at 8:14 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 22:14:39-04

HELENA — With many businesses closed and Montanans remaining at home, law enforcement officers around the state are seeing some changes in the calls they receive.

Helena Police Department leaders say, so far, COVID-19 hasn’t meant major changes in how their officers are deployed.

“There are still thefts, there are still criminal mischiefs, there are still partner and family member assaults,” said Capt. Curt Stinson. “There’s been little dips or little spikes, but there hasn’t been any tremendous change.”

Stinson said HPD officers have responded to about 2,500 calls over the last month – almost the same overall number of calls as the same period last year. However, there have been differences in the specific cases they have dealt with.

“The one thing that’s gone down remarkably is traffic crashes,” Stinson said. “Traffic crash numbers go way down because there’s not the same number of people out traveling. I think the officers are spending more time doing security walkthroughs and extra patrols in neighborhoods and things like that.”
Another area where HPD has seen an increase is in people asking for officers to make “welfare checks” on family members or neighbors.

While many jurisdictions have reported a spike in domestic violence cases since coronavirus restrictions took effect, Stinson said Helena has seen a relatively consistent number of those calls compared to last year – and the number of arrests actually decreased, from 19 to 10.

HPD has made some procedural adjustments, including limiting in-person contacts on some calls and having officers wear cloth masks regularly.

While the department is partnering with Lewis and Clark Public Health to handle some reports of people violating social distancing guidelines, Stinson said they haven’t had to issue many warnings.

“I think if you look around the community, the overwhelming majority of people are handling the situation very well and policing themselves very well – we don’t have to be involved in that,” he said.