HOUSTON – Houston police are grappling with a rise in certain types of burglaries and aggravated assaults as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep many people home and businesses closed. HPD records also show an uptick in domestic violence cases.
According to HPD, there has been a 29% increase in burglary of building cases since the middle of March and a 17% increase compared to the same time period in 2019.
“Businesses have been shut down for quite a few weeks due to the stay-at-home order,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. “Crooks know that no one is there. We attribute a big part of that to no one is working in these facilities.”
Alana Kundu definitely understands the pain of being burglarized. Kundu and her husband own the Ambrosia restaurant in Montrose.
“It’s a shocker that somebody would take advantage in this time,” said Kundu.
Kundu said sales were up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, the restaurant is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday for delivery and takeout and delivery.
“Just trying to pay bills and figure out a way to pay people and stuff like that. It’s been very tough,” Kundu said.
Surveillance video shows a thief breaking into the restaurant through the ceiling. The burglar then proceeded to damage electronics and registers in the apparent hope of finding cash.
“He broke our A/C. I think he fell on it, or I don’t know what happened,” said Kundu. “Just to get a few bottles of liquor and maybe a few hundred dollars in the register.”
Luckily the Kundus’ alarm system alerted them to the break-in as it was happening. Kundu said police officers arrived quickly and arrested 61-year-old David Quigley who was hiding in an empty building next door. Harris County court records show Quigley has a lengthy criminal history including charges of drug possession, escape and failing to register as a sex offender.
Burglaries are not the only problem. HPD records show aggravated assaults are up 9% since mid-March and domestic violence is up 1.3%.
“People are cooped up, they’ve lost their jobs, there’s no income coming in, a lot of pressures,” said Acevedo.
The domestic violence numbers will likely change after assault cases are more thoroughly reviewed, Acevedo said. The chief says historically 38% of assault cases are tied to domestic violence and since the pandemic started, he said it’s about 50%.
“So it’s about a 12% increase in terms of the number of assaults that have a nexus to domestic violence,” said Acevedo.
The Houston Area Women’s Center is also reporting a large spike in the number of calls to their hotline.
“We are seeing a 40% spike in our hotline for calls for domestic violence,” said HAWC President and CEO, Emilee Whitehurst.
“Are you also seeing an increase in calls for shelter as well?” asked KPRC 2′s Robert Arnold.
“Yes,” said Whitehurst. “More people are asking for shelter which tells us people are living in situations that are intolerable.”
HAWC officials report they are receiving between 57 and 70 calls a day with 65% of callers needing shelter. HAWC’s shelter remains at capacity, so the Center has provided 29 families with 80 nights of hotel stays during March and April.
Whitehurst said times of natural disaster always bring a spike in domestic violence, like the Houston area saw after Hurricane Harvey.
“Just like we’re trying to flatten the coronavirus curve, we’re trying to flatten the domestic violence curve,” said Whitehurst.
In partnership with the city of Houston, HAWC helped launch a new public awareness campaign. Important hotline numbers and safety information can be found here. HAWC’s domestic violence hotline is (713) 528-2121.
City officials said as part of the “No Covid Abuse” campaign, Uber has set up a $50,000 grant to provide rides to victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. The city is also helping supplement hotel stays since shelters are at reduced capacity to maintain social distancing.
There are some bright spots — murders, robberies and home burglaries in Houston have seen decreases during the pandemic. Acevedo is still worried, however, about what budget cuts will do to a department thin on manpower. Mayor Sylvester Turner said several cadet classes will likely have to be postponed due to lost revenue.
“At the end of the day there’s only so much you can squeeze out of a police department and right now the public needs us to make lemonade and we’re down to the rind, not even the lemon peel,” said Acevedo.