Crime likely being underreported during COVID-19 pandemic, Seminole sheriff says

Statistically, crime is down in Seminole County

Coronavirus pandemic complicates domestic violence for victims of abuse

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said statistically, the area’s crime rate is at the lowest its ever seen adding that it’s likely substance and domestic abuse crimes are being underreported due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sheriff made his remarks Wednesday afternoon during a mental health roundtable at AdventHealth in Altamonte Springs. He joined representatives from state agencies, the First Lady of Florida Casey DeSantis and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“You know (crime) is down across the state and Florida and in its 107-year history, it’s never been as low in Seminole County as it is today,” Lemma said. “What’s frightening about that is criminologists suggest that a fraction of the crime that occurs in our communities actually are never reported to law enforcement.”

The roundtable discussion, which focused on the detrimental effects of isolation and how deteriorating mental health could lead to substance abuse and suicide also addressed neglect and domestic violence.

“Think for a moment of all of those victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment,” he said. “Nobody knows about it.”

[Here’s how you can help domestic violence victims during the coronavirus pandemic]

Lemma pointed to statistics, saying though they may seem hopeful they could actually be alarming.

During the talk, state agencies reported a 40% decrease in calls into Florida’s child abuse hotline to report suspected abuse and 44% decrease in child abuse investigations. Agency representatives said the numbers include statistics from March. In context, the decline was odd considering the number of children that are now home more often, officials said.

Apart from child-related calls, organizations also noted a 32% decrease in sexual abuse investigations and a 50% decline in physical abuse investigations.

“It’s sad when you think about those numbers,” Casey DeSantis said. “But then when you know that you’re talking about a baby, you’re talking about children who can’t always fight for themselves, it takes on a whole new meaning.”

The first lady continued to provide more insight into the statewide issue of mental health citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revealed statistics supporting the notion that the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted people’s state of mind.

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“I think it was 25% of children ages 18 to 25 who have considered and thought about committing suicide in the past 30 days,” she said.

Collectively, the state is seeing an overall lack of reporting of various types of abuse and a decline in the request for mental health services and law enforcement intervention.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife praised the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office work with a number of agencies to mitigate substance and domestic abuse from different angles.

“People typically don’t wake up one day and say that they want to have a career criminal pattern,” Lemma said. “It’s these underlying conditions that need to be addressed that make our community safe but more importantly save lives.”

Lemma said he hopes to amplify his office’s work and let people know that it’s safe to ask for help, especially during the pandemic.

[RELATED: Crime drops around the world as COVID-19 keeps people inside]

“If we’re not careful, the narrative of bending the curve and all of these things that we’ve heard for the past six months loses our focus on what lingers around the corner for us tomorrow,” he said.

The sheriff said as reporting numbers decrease his concern grows because it’s likely people, particularly children, are not coming into contact with mandatory first responders and reporters like teachers.

“I am confident by partnering with faith-based organizations or public and private partnership, the business community and our media partners that we can get the message out there and be prepared before this crisis hits our front doors any larger than what has already done.”

Those who would like to report domestic violence can call the national hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or speak with an advocate online by clicking here.

To report suspected abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families call 1-800-962-2873 or report abuse online by clicking here.