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As Coronavirus Ramps Up, Local Police See Decline In Calls, Tickets

Cleveland police have seen a dramatic drop-off in traffic stops since the start of the coronavirus epidemic in Ohio. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
photo of cleveland police car

Four Northeast Ohio municipalities — Cleveland, Canton, North Royalton and Mayfield Heights — all saw significant drops in traffic stops or tickets shortly after the coronavirus epidemic arrived in Ohio.

Other potential effects, like a drop in overall calls for service or a spike in domestic violence, were less apparent in the early numbers.

The four agencies responded to ideastream’s request for statistics on calls for service and arrests between March 6 and March 22 in both 2019 and 2020.

In Cleveland, traffic stops dropped 31 percent when compared to the previous year. In Canton, which only had statistics for March 9-22, the drop-off was 75 percent.

The numbers reflected the early stage of coronavirus in Ohio. Ohio’s  first coronavirus cases were confirmed March 9 and Gov. Mike DeWine's  stay-at-home order went into effect March 23.

Lt. Dennis Garren, the Canton Police Department's public information officer, said the drop-off in tickets was partly due to an unrelated shift in traffic enforcement policy, but the coronavirus definitely played a role.

“For the more minor violations, our officers have been told use some discretion,” Garren said.

Officers will make stops for dangerous driving, he said, but other minor infractions they may let go.

“We want to minimize the interaction between the public and our officers,” Garren said.

Canton saw a small drop in calls for service, from 2827 to 2699, which Garren described as too insignificant to draw conclusions from.

That policy on minimizing interactions extends to how officers handle those calls for service. According to Garren, where they can, officers are writing a summons-to-appear in court. The City of  Cleveland also issued an order on March 19 requiring a summons-to-appear instead of arrests for nonviolent misdemeanors and traffic offenses.

Cleveland's overall number of service calls have actually gone up, from 16,074 to 16,142.

The two other cities — North Royalton and Mayfield Heights — also saw a drop-off in traffic tickets in 2020 compared to the previous year.

In North Royalton, the difference was almost 40 percent, going from 87 to 53; Mayfield Heights saw a 44 percent drop.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.