Since Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird issued a local emergency order on March 16 and officials started telling people to socially distance themselves from each other, traffic is down, stores are empty, parks are closed and people seem to be hunkering down.
Judging by the number of calls to Lincoln police, you wouldn’t know.
Since the mayor’s order, the average number of calls police have responded to every day is unchanged from previous March days, according to an analysis of calls. In previous March days since 2017, police responded to an average 297 calls a day. During the time of coronavirus? 295. But because of how much calls per day vary, statistically speaking, the averages are no different.
But that’s not to say what calls police are responding to haven’t changed.
Daily calls relating to accidents and traffic have dropped sharply following the local emergency declaration, but calls pertaining to disturbances, suspicious activity and trespassing have jumped up.
The most significant increase, however, is larceny from vehicles. According to Lincoln Police Chief Jeffrey Bliemeister, there has been a 99 percent increase in theft from vehicles in comparison to the department’s five-year trend. However, he reminded residents that this crime can be avoided.
“Go out to your vehicles that are parked in your drive or in the streets and remove any valuables. Take a double check, make sure that there’s nothing left behind,” he said. “As you’re walking away, make sure and lock that car because this is something that is preventable and we want to stop the cascading effects of when a larceny from auto occurs.”
The effects of larceny from vehicles can be detrimental during this outbreak, causing officers to increase contact with people in the community.
“If a wallet is stolen and it contains a credit card, oftentimes those credit cards are immediately used at a series of different businesses across our community,” Bliemeister said. “That particular action requires follow-up on the part of our officers and they have to make contact, not only with the individual who was victimized in the crime, but at all of those businesses as we attempt to gain information to identify and locate the persons responsible.”
According to Tracy Corr, liaison for the 40th and A Neighborhood Association, larceny from vehicles is the most common crime in the neighborhood. She said the recent spike may be a result of school closings.
“I think with the schools being closed, sometimes they get a bad rap, but teens are bored. They’re looking for something to do, so sometimes they get into mischievous activities,” she said. “Usually when it’s a school break or summertime, that’s when we’d also see theft from the automobiles rise.”
Along with the rise in theft from vehicles is an increase in trespassing, suspicious activity and disturbance calls. In a typical March day since 2017, police would respond to 6 trespassing calls a day. Since the coronavirus emergency declaration, it’s 10 per day. Suspicious activity calls are up two per day. Disturbances have gone from 49 to 56 a day.
However, LPD has yet to determine if the local health measures in place are the reason behind the upsurge.
“Disturbances are things that we are continuing to track and monitor and they are one of our higher volume calls for service,” Bliemeister said. “Making a causal relationship to the directive health measures that have been implemented or even just the voluntary directives that people are taking is one of the things that we continue to explore through the crime analysis unit and through the research branch of the Lincoln Police Department.”
Corr said residents in the 40th and A neighborhood communicate about suspicious activity or trespassing on Nextdoor, a social network used to connect neighborhoods, local businesses and agencies. She said she believes the rise in disturbance calls to police is an outcome of residents remaining in their homes.
“People are staying home, you know, and they’re together more now. When you’re in close quarters, things can get a little heated sometimes,” she said. “I’m not surprised that it’s, kind of, shifted to those types of calls for service.”
Despite growing concerns surrounding COVID-19, Gaylor Baird reassured Lincoln residents that the city will continue to analyze the change in crime trends and update the public as needed.
“The coronavirus has created a new reality for all of us, and it has really altered our daily routines and it’s got us evaluating new risks because of it,” she said. “As the city, we continue to monitor trends in our data to protect the public.”