We put in a public records information request to the Benton-Franklin County 911 dispatch center recently, seeking to find out if COVID-19 has caused an increase in emergency calls related to mental health issues.

These would be such issues as Domestic Violence, Assault, and Suicide threats or attempts. The Dispatch Center provided us with an 86 page report, listing all the 911 calls for all agencies in Benton Franklin County that fell under the following categories:

  • Domestic Violence 1 (DVM1)
  • Domestic Violence  2  (DVM2)
  • Domestic Violence 3  (DVM3)
  • Disturbances---those involving up to DVM1 (Assaults, fights)
  • Suicide (threats or attempts).

From April 1 through August 20 (when the report was received) there were a total of 1970 such calls made to all city and county law enforcement agencies.  April, there were 401. Then the number jumped to 433 in May, dipped to 428 in June, then rose again in July to 446.  That's a noticeable increase, not only during those months, but for the entire period over what is considered 'normal.'

And remember, these are only the actual 911 calls made. You can certainly believe there were numerous other incidents that were 'settled' with out police help.

But the suicide calls were shocking. Of the 1970, 475 were either threats or actual attempts. That amounts of 24.1 percent of all serious 911 calls.  That is a significant increase from previous months and trends.  When you consider all of the domestic and other fights, issues, arguments, incidents that happen;  1 in four of 911 calls were suicide related.

Even more disturbing  were the 'strings' of consecutive calls.  Between May 17-18, 8 straight calls answered by law enforcement were suicide related. There were also at least TEN different stretches during this time (4-1---8-20) where officers responded to four or more such calls in a row-without any other incidents. Some were 5, 6 incidents in a row.

Fortunately, August is on pace to record "only" 348 such calls (DVM 1-2-3 etc), based upon the data from August 1 through the 20th. But that is still higher than what's usually seen.

Benton and Franklin County Commissioners have been compiling this data, and sending it to state officials, with the hopes of showing them what COVID lockdowns, shutdowns, and restrictions are doing to the civilian population. However, based upon Phase progress, it does not appear to be making any difference.

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