Louisiana law enforcement agencies and prosecutors say they’re concerned that the statewide stay-at-home order combined with the high stress of the coronavirus outbreak could lead to a spike in domestic violence incidents.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, local officials and community advocates held a press conference Friday to voice their concerns.
“Spending days or weeks with an abusive partner or family member opens the door for immense physical and emotional trauma,” Broome said. “Unfortunately, this is the reality of COVID-19, and it presents itself to many of our neighbors, families and friends.”
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said he has seen similar circumstances correlate with a significant increase in domestic violence incidents.
“It’s too soon to know the full impact of our health crisis on our community’s families,” Moore said. “But we do know that external stressors like the pandemic and the natural disaster we saw in 2016 can exacerbate an already dangerous situation.”
Moore said that in 2017, when many residents of the capital region were still recovering from the catastrophic floods the previous year, there were 14 domestic violence-related homicides in East Baton Rouge Parish — twice as many in the previous and following years.
“We’re asking people to stay at home because it is safe, but the reality is for many people home is anything but safe,” Moore said.
While the uptick in homicides reveals a pattern during times of emergency, Moore and others acknowledged that the number represents a minuscule percentage of incidents of abuse.
Differences in how law enforcement agencies designate and track domestic violence incidents in real time makes it difficult to identify an increase since the statewide stay-at-home order went into effect.
Chief Murphy Paul of the Baton Rouge Police Department said his officers have responded to more batteries, assaults and calls involving “emotionally disturbed persons” over the last two weeks — suggesting that domestic violence may be increasing within Baton Rouge city limits.
A spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department said his office has not seen an increase in domestic violence calls since Mayor Cantrell issued a city-wide stay-at-home order March 20.
Captain Chiquita Broussard of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office said domestic violence calls in the month of March were down significantly, but that’s not necessarily a good sign. She noted that people experiencing abuse are less likely to call law enforcement or advocacy groups for help while they are in the presence of their abusers.
As a result, law enforcement agencies are instructing officers and deputies responding to likely domestic violence incidents to include extra details in their reports.
Ken Daley, spokesperson for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office said in an email that through the end of last week, his office has not seen “an appreciable spike” in domestic violence cases since Edwards announced the statewide stay-at-home order.
“Our judges continue to issue protective orders on all [domestic violence] cases as the defendant comes through magistrate court for first appearance,” Daley wrote of the criminal cases his office handles.
He also noted that while the Louisiana Supreme Court shut down most proceedings in Civil District Courts, hearings for protective orders are expected to continue without delay.
Hunter Greene, chief judge of the Family Court of East Baton Rouge, said that family court judges in East Baton Rouge are granting temporary restraining orders automatically after they are filed. No hearings are required.
“For domestic violence, the court is open every day of the week,” Greene said.
Officials say they continue to work closely with community advocacy groups to offer critical services to survivors of domestic abuse.
The Louisiana Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24-hours a day.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline website offers advice on how to develop a safety plan while living with an abuser.