District Attorney Joyce Dudley gave a visual reminder of how to call victim advocates, who counsel and comfort those affected by domestic violence. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

As Santa Barbara County residents are continuing to follow the mandatory shelter-in-place order, domestic violence incidents have increased, so the county is calling on all residents to report abuse occurring behind closed doors.

“We want you to know that even though you aren’t out and about, we see you,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley said at a press conference Tuesday. “We see your grief, we see your fear, your illness, your abuse. We see you because we know our community and we know the members of our community.”

Dudley was joined by Sheriff Bill Brown and County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, all three of whom were echoing the same message: If you see something or hear something, call 9-1-1 and say something. 

The first week after the shelter-in-place mandate was imposed, domestic violence reports countywide went up 21 percent. The reports have steadily decreased since, which Dudley directly attributed to a lack of reporting due to the victim’s fear of a sheltering in the same home as their abuser. Child abuse is more prevalent during the pandemic as well because the mandated reporters who usually see the children at school every day are no longer physically present. 

“If you are experiencing domestic violence, spousal rape, child abuse, elder abuse, or even if your animals are being abused, you have to make it stop,” Dudley said. “You have to be the one to make it stop. It won’t stop on its own. You have to call 9-1-1. Every single police chief in the county has made in-home abuse their number-one priority.”

She also said if you are unable to dial 9-1-1, call the victim advocate line at (805) 568-2400.

They also addressed other COVID-19-related impacts. Sheriff Brown said that as of yesterday at noon, the South County Jail has only 693 inmates, a significant drop from the number of inmates on the same day last year — 933. There have also been significantly fewer arrests since the shelter-in-place order to try and keep the jail population low. Between the period of March 18 to April 6 in 2019, 645 people were arrested. This year during the same period, 300 people were arrested.

Brown was also questioned about the pressure on his office to release more inmates. 

“Well, there will be [more inmates released] as a result of the action taken by the Judicial Council yesterday,” Brown said. “We’re in the preliminary stages of determining how many, but it probably looks like not a huge number, about 20 or so additional people, that will qualify for early release as a result of the judicial council setting zero bail for non-serious felonies and most misdemeanors.”

Some of that pressure to release more inmates comes from the Disability Rights of California, the largest disability rights group in the nation. The nonprofit sued the South County Jail in December 2017 for “inhumane” and “unsanitary” living conditions for inmates. Now, the same group is demanding that Brown release more inmates due to the nearly 100 inmates still in custody that the current jail health-care staff identified as being at high-risk for contracting the virus. 

Brown did not address that demand specifically, and he appeared to only have plans for releasing the additional low-level offenders who qualify for zero bail. 

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