Crime in the city of Greenville has dropped significantly in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis of the LexisNexis Community Crime Map, which pulls data from the Greenville Police Department.
Since people started staying indoors, the city has seen an estimated 39% decrease in crimes from April 1 through April 27 compared to the same time period last year, according to the map.
But the lockdown has also led to a spike in property crimes — specifically auto break-ins, Greenville police statistics show. There have been at least 105 reported burglaries from motor vehicles from March through April — a 19% increase compared to the same time period in 2019.
At the same time, a growing number of inmates have been released from the Greenville County Detention Center because of COVID-19 concerns.
About 80 inmates who were facing magistrate-level charges for nonviolent offenses were released in March to slow the spread of the virus, said John Vandermosten, the county’s assistant administrator for public safety.
The Greenville County jail population was roughly 1,250 in early February, Vandermosten said. It’s now at 841 — a number Vandermosten said the jail hasn’t seen in over a decade.
“Judges are trying to reduce the population in the jails,” he said. “They are definitely, definitely trying to release as many people as they can.”
The release of inmates is part of a statewide trend following an order from South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty on March 16 directing the state’s judicial circuits to limit the number of inmates in jail.
“Any person charged with a noncapital crime shall be ordered released pending trial on his own recognizance without surety, unless an unreasonable danger to the community will result or the accused is an extreme flight risk,” part of the order states.
In addition, Vandermosten said the jail has had to change the way it receives new inmates.
When new inmates arrive, “the first thing that happens is a nurse goes out and takes their temperature,” he said.
They’re then taken into a quarantine unit for 14 days before they’re moved into the general population.
The jail has a separate housing unit for inmates who are showing signs of symptoms, though so far, no inmates have tested positive for the virus, Vandermosten said.
At the Greenville Police Department, operational changes have been made in an effort to reduce officers’ contact with possible carriers of the virus.
Interim Police Chief Howie Thompson said the department is limiting police and medical response calls to those of an acute nature.
“If we hear key words like ‘heart attack,’ ‘not breathing,’ things like that, police are rolling, and a lot of times we’re able to beat fire [departments], EMS and start medical treatment there,” Thompson said at a recent COVID-19 briefing with Greenville City Council members. “But other calls that are not of that nature, we will not respond to.”
Officers are also taking nonemergency reports over the phone in incidents where no evidence can be collected and there’s no threat to the victim.
Police are also instructed to employ social distancing measures as calls permit, according to Lt. Alia Paramore, a spokesperson for the agency, and officers have been provided with personal protective equipment and disinfectant for their patrol vehicles and in-car computer equipment.
“Obviously the nature of our job requires us, when necessary, to be in close contact with the public,” Paramore said.