Brookhaven police officers are seeing an uptick in reports of domestic violence and attempted suicide during the coronavirus pandemic — and facing some suspects threatening to give officers COVID-19, city officials say.

“Calls [for] service, obviously, are down, but the seriousness of the calls are going up,” said City Manager Christian Sigman at an April 15 City Council meeting. “We believe the strain of social distancing and economic uncertainty and the major changes in people’s daily lives have increased the number of physical altercations between people and with our officers, resulting in an elevated use of the Taser and calls for attempted suicides and domestic assaults.”

Sigman said the police department is not in “crisis mode,” but that the calls have been more challenging.

“We have had three arrest situations where the arrestees have tried to bite or spit [at] our officers while acknowledging they have the COVID-19 or believe they have it,” Sigman said. “Our officers are being monitored and no one has shown any symptoms or tested positive.”

Statistics provided later for the March 13-April 13 period by Sgt. David Snively, a police department spokesperson, show reports for domestic violence and attempted suicide have trended upward during the same period over the past two years with increases that are minor in absolute numbers, but significant as percentage increases.

In that pandemic period, police reported 36 domestic violence incidents and 9 suicide incidents. During the same period in 2019, officers reported 32 domestic violence incidents and 4 suicide incidents. And in 2018, the numbers were 31 domestic violence incidents and 1 suicide incident.

Suicide incidents include attempted suicide and suicide threats involving a person transported to a hospital or mental health facility, Snively said. Officers do not write reports for every call for service, but only for incidents that involve an alleged crime or other serious activity.

The police department previously said that calls for service were down in the first week of the pandemic, and Chief Gary Yandura had instructed officers to release those charged with low-level offenses with a citation rather than jail transportation to avoid contact.

The state offers several resources for people coping with mental health challenges or physical danger during the pandemic, including help hotlines that are free, confidential and operate 24 hours a day. The Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line is available at 866-399-8938. A Domestic Abuse Hotline is available at 800-334-2836. For other resources, see the state website here.

Emergency declaration, business license payments extended

In other pandemic-related issues, the council extended a state of emergency and the deadline for business license payments.

The council initially declared a state of emergency on March 16. At the April 15 meeting, the council passed an ordinance extending the city’s emergency declaration to April 30. The move allows the city’s state of emergency to match the statewide shelter-in-place order extended by Gov. Brian Kemp on April 8.

The city ordinance passed on Tuesday night also postponed the due date on business license payments to July 1. If made by the new deadline, payments on business licenses will not accrue interest and penalties.

More jobs to open to teenagers

When restaurants return to dine-in service and movie theaters reopen, they will be able to offer more jobs to local teenagers. The council passed an ordinance to amend city code and allow employees 16 to 18 years old to work for businesses licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises. Employees under 18 will not be allowed to take orders for or deliver alcohol to customers, but they can work as bussers, cooks and similar jobs.

Councilmember Joe Gebbia said the ordinance arose from a direct request by NCG Theaters in the Northeast Plaza shopping center on Buford Highway.

“A lot of jobs at this theater were for opening positions for young people in the neighborhood,” Gebbia said. “They specifically want to target the Cross Keys High School crowd to come in and get their first jobs at their  theater.”

The ordinance also applies to other recreation facilities such as bowling alleys and golf course clubhouses.

“In uncertain economic times, the City Council finds that providing broader economic opportunity to persons seeking work is appropriate economic and social policy,” the ordinance said.

Councilmembers suggest better social distancing

Outdoor activities are permitted under Georgia’s shelter-in-place order, but officials called on residents to maintain proper social distancing when outside.

“I just would like to remind everybody as the weather continues to be nice, I’m out walking and pushing the stroller around my house in Historic Brookhaven, and there are a lot of people out walking, and to try to be cognizant of crossing the street and crossing the sidewalk when you see other people walking,” said Councilmember Madeleine Simmons. “We can make sure that we’re continuing to keep proper distances while exercising and enjoying our beautiful neighborhoods in the springtime.”

–By Ryan Kolakowski