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Chief: domestic violence & auto theft up during shelter in place
• Police cite & release when feasible for jail safety issue
Ceres patrol car
Ceres Police still have a job to do but have modified the way they do it, trying their best to distance themselves from those they come into contact with. They also have personal safety equipment when having to make an arrest. - photo by Jeff Benziger

With more people working from home or furloughed and schools cancelled because of “stay at home” orders due to Covid-19, Ceres Police said they are noticing an uptick in domestic disturbance calls.

“We’ve seen a spike in domestic violence calls,” said Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins. “I don’t have clear-cut data to give you numbers on that but based on the shift logs that we receive daily there has been an increase in domestic violence cases.”

In a conference call with other police chiefs throughout the county, Collins said he learned all the agencies are experiencing an increase in auto thefts as well. 

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way police do their jobs in some instances. Ceres Police officers are being encouraged to cite and release for misdemeanor crimes such as petty theft and vandalism.

“The jail is going to use some discretion about who they’re going to take and who they’re not going to take so if that can alleviate the pressure from them then we can do a cite and release on non-violent misdemeanor type crimes,” said Chief Collins.

Officers have also been instructed to keep six-foot distances from members of the public when possible as they answer calls. When they can’t officers have personal protective equipment to wear if need be.

“They’re equipped for the different situations that they’re going to come across,” said Collins.

Calls for service are about the same as the pre-pandemic period, he said.

There is a noticeable decrease in pedestrian movement and vehicular traffic on local roads and rush-hour Highway 99 traffic congestion between Modesto and Turlock has given way to easy cruising. Collins said his officers are still doing traffic enforcement on busy streets in Ceres like Hatch, Mitchell and Whitmore.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in Gov. Gavin Newsom issuing orders for all Californians to eliminate non-essential trips away from home, Collins said his department is “nowhere near” pulling over motorists to see why they are traveling.

“We don’t want to get into that type of enforcement, telling people that they got to go home. We’ll obviously encourage them to go back home if they’re not doing essential stuff but we’re not at that level of enforcement yet.”

The state order specifies that Californians can drive to stores for supplies and go outdoors for walking, running and bicycling.

Collins’ department did send out 26 letters to business establishments in Ceres that fall outside of the perimeter of essential businesses telling them to cease and desist from operations. They included bars, gyms, smoke shops, hair salons and restaurants allowing dine-in as an option.

“We just sent out a cease and desist letter to let them know they need to be in compliance with the governor’s orders and if they got into compliance that was the extent of it. We did the education component and we followed up with a letter and by and large everybody we’ve contacted have complied with the letter.”

Of the 26 letters, all but three have complied, said the chief.

The department planned to follow up with the three today.

Collins admitted there is a lot of ambiguity in why the state allows some businesses to stay open and not others. Clothing shops and shoe stores cannot operate but stores like Walmart can. Smoke shops cannot stay open but cannabis retailers and liquor stores can.

With stay at home orders expected to continue at least until the end of the month and maybe into May, Collins said his department will do its best to serve the public.

“As this thing continues to evolve, we’ll continue to make adjustments to provide Ceres the best service that we can under the circumstances. We want to keep our community safe, our officers safe, our employees safe.”