Report: JPD saw fewer arrests, accidents in 2020


JASPER — Just as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way nearly every local business and organization operates, the Jasper Police Department did, too. This, at least in part, led to a decrease in arrests, accidents and traffic violations, according to the department’s 2020 end-of-year report.

“I think the change in numbers is completely related to COVID,” JPD Chief Nathan Schmitt said. “[The city] had to shut down for a while, and I remember coming into work, and it was like every day was a Sunday — no one on the roads, not a lot of calls.”

In total, the department received 13,114 calls for service in 2020, which was lower than the previous two years, compared to 14,142 calls in 2019 and 13,866 in 2018. This included fewer building checks, case reports/ investigations, and arrests.

The department made 434 arrests in 2020, compared to 578 in 2019 and 566 in 2018.

Arrests for crimes such theft and battery, which typically involve being out in public, were also lower, likely due, at least in part, to the fact that many people have been staying home, Schmitt said.

However, arrests for OWIs increased: there were 66 arrests in 2020, compared to 56 in 2019 and 38 in 2018.

Arrests for domestic battery also increased: 37 arrests compared to 30 and 20 from the previous two years, respectively.

Although there is no data or evidence to prove OWI and domestic battery cases increased in relation to the pandemic, the trend is still important to acknowledge, Mayor Dean Vonderheide said in a January meeting that discussed the report.

“Those are two significant social problems that are not just unique to Jasper but across the United States,” he said. “It’s a real problem, and it’s something that as a community we are attempting to face it … We have to highlight the fact that that problem does reside here in Dubois County and especially here in Jasper.”

Accidents and traffic violations, including warnings and citations, also decreased in 2020, according to the report.

There were 495 accidents involving property damage, compared to 662 in 2019 and 648 in 2018, and 46 accidents involving personal injury, compared to 61 in 2019 and 69 in 2018.

Additionally, 2020 saw 2,096 traffic warnings, compared to 3,815 and 3,361 in the previous two years, respectively. There were 733 traffic citations, compared to 1,045 and 863 previously.

When the pandemic initially hit, JPD transitioned into being more reactive than proactive when pulling drivers over, Schmitt said.

If officers saw drivers acting dangerously, such as driving recklessly, then they would still be stopped. But in cases such as expired license plates, especially during months when the BMV was closed, officers would let them slide, Schmitt said. This also led to fewer arrests that result from traffic stops.

“Compared to how we normally police, it was kind of hands off,” he said.

Overall, the department received more calls in the early and late months in the year. The number of calls began to drop off in March and crept back up to more normal numbers later in the summer.

Schmitt said he suspects that when the pandemic settles down — whenever that may be — the department might see a spike in calls and arrests because more people will be out and about.

“Lots of crime comes out of opportunity,” Schmitt said. “I think here in Jasper we have a great community. There are a few people who are out to do harm, but for the most part, it’s good people who are just given the opportunity to do the wrong thing.”

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