Data provided by New Hampshire State Police show arrests declined in March and April compared to the same months last year. April saw the biggest decline, with arrests down about 67.7%.
Arrests in March went from 737 in 2019 to 508 in 2020. In April, they dropped from 601 to 194.
There were 945 calls for service in March 2019. This year, there were 881. In April, calls for service declined from 1,039 last year to 792 this year.
According to data from the first 11 days in May, that trend appears to be continuing, with 56 arrests and 319 calls for service during that period. In 2019, May saw a total of 857 arrests and 1,199 calls for service.
Col. Nathan Noyes of the State Police said the agency was facing shifting needs in the community when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state.
“We really had to adapt along with those needs,” he said.
In the days following the governor’s stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-essential businesses, that meant redirecting troopers from traffic enforcement and other regular duties to be liaisons with the National Guard and the state Emergency Operations Center, Noyes said.
The agency stopped using highway safety grants for speed, seatbelt or DUI enforcement details, and helped with other projects such as educating people at coastal beaches about social distancing and safeguarding and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We really deployed a lot of resources to assist every community throughout the state,” he said.
The move to temporarily pull back on traffic enforcement for minor infractions like broken tail lights was in part to protect the health of troopers since they had concerns about whether or not they had sufficient PPE supplies in the early days of the pandemic, Noyes said.
But there was also less need for those stops. Noyes said the agency noted a 60% decrease in traffic on roadways statewide.
Now, the department is returning to its normal enforcement efforts, as traffic has increased. State police have enough PPE to go around, and they’re using the highway safety grants again, Noyes said.
Moving forward, he expects May will still be low on arrests and calls for service, compared to last year, but not as low as April.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that the needs of our community, whether it be from Colebrook to Hampton to Keene, are all being met while adjusting to the challenges that we’re seeing,” Noyes said.
Meanwhile, 911 calls flagged by dispatchers with the code “Protocol 36,” meaning a patient has or is suspected to have COVID-19-like symptoms, have remained steady.
May 15 saw the lowest number of Protocol 36 calls, with 40 across the state, but some days still hovered around 60, which has been the overall average since the state started tracking these calls on March 20.
The average for the first 18 days in May is 53 calls per day. April saw an average of 61, and March 20 to 31 averaged 65 calls. The biggest spike for COVID-related calls happened on March 26 with 88 calls. March 31 and May 1 had 75 calls, and a couple of days in late April came close to that.
Similar declines in arrests have been reported by local police in cities like Manchester and Nashua and half a dozen southern tier communities.
Police departments in those towns said they made an effort to limit arrests where possible, instead favoring court summonses for most misdemeanors. A number of crimes of opportunity have been down due to the closure of schools and businesses and the stay-at-home orders, they said.
Cases of violent felonies, domestic violence, restraining order violations, and stalking still result in custodial arrests, police say.
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