Breaking and enterings, car crashes decline as virus keeps people home

By Eric DiNovo/Bluefield Daily TelegraphSgt. M.S. Haynes of the Princeton Detachment of the West Virginia State Police watches traffic on 460 Friday. Haynes said he was shocked to see how many vehicles were out despite the stay-at-home order by Gov. Jim Justice.

bluefield — As residents across the two Virginias stay in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a side effect of the potentially deadly disease may be a decrease in crime and car accidents.

Law enforcement and 911 officials across southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia reported fewer emergency calls in the past two weeks.

“Our call volume has gone way down,” said Sgt. D.W. Miller, commander of the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment. “I would say it’s probably been cut in half the past couple of weeks."

Miller attributes the decrease to the stay-at-home order, which has led to fewer people on the roadways and fewer car accidents.

There has also been a decrease in burglaries and breaking and enterings, Miller said.

“People are at home during the day and that’s cutting down on property crimes,” he said. “There’s been a dramatic decrease in crimes and overall calls. It’s been way down.”

Mercer County 911 Director Bob Hoge said there appear to be fewer calls since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.

“It would appear that people are heeding the requirement to stay in,” Hoge said. “We’ve had less calls and less traffic on the roads.”

Bluefield Police Chief Dennis Dillow said his officers are seeing a dramatic decrease in calls.

“It’s probably a third of what we normally get,” Dillow said. “It’s a good thing. The community is listening to what the governor and city manager say. People here seem to really be taking care of themselves.”

Dillow praised residents for abiding safety warnings.

“I appreciate the public staying in and doing what they’re supposed to do,” he said. “This has actually shown our community is tight-knit — not only the people who live here in Bluefield, but across our country. When the chips are down our city, our state, our country comes together.”

Princeton Police Chief T.A. Gray is also seeing a decline in calls.

“I believe a lot of it has to do with accident calls,” he said. “The courthouse is closed — there’s just not as much traffic on the roadways.”

However, Gray said his officers are still answering calls and working business as usual.

“We’re blessed that we haven’t been hit (like larger metro areas),” Gray said. “We live in a great area. It’s sad that it takes something like this to bring it out.”

Mercer County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Capt. Joe Parks also noted a decrease in drunk drivers and car accidents.

“I applaud the efforts of our area citizens who have handled it all in stride,” Parks said. “That’s the only positive to come out of this. I don’t think there will be another time in our lifetime that we’ll see a pandemic like this. I’m proud of everybody pulling together.”

Parks did note, however, “We’re still getting domestic calls … with people shut in like this.”

Across the state line in Tazewell County, Sheriff Brian Hieatt is also seeing a decrease in calls.

“Overall, we’re seeing less,” Hieatt said.

Hieatt said the Tazewell County 911 center had 300 less calls come in March 15-26, 2020, than the same time period in 2019.

Calls to the sheriff’s office also dropped from 588 in 2019 to 471 in 2020.

“Vehicle accidents have also gone down from 38 in 2019 to 30 in 2020,” Hieatt said.

Hieatt also provided an interesting fact from Tazewell County 911 Director Randy Ann Davis. The busiest call time also changed from 2019 to 2020.

The busiest call time in 2019 was from 1 to 7 p.m., Davis said. In 2020, the busiest time was 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In neighboring McDowell County, Chief Deputy James Muncy is also seeing a reduction in calls.

“I believe people are listening,” Muncy said. “They’re staying off the roads, and that will reduce accidents.”

Muncy said there has also been a decrease in burglary calls.

There is one specific call, though, that has seen an uptick.

“We’ve had a lot of welfare check calls,” Muncy said. “People are concerned about their neighbors and if they need supplies … but that’s a good thing.”

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