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Patrolman Josh Browning with the Madison Police Department demonstrates procedure and protection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BOONE COUNTY — Boone County has experienced an increase in domestic violence and general dispute calls during the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to what the Boone County Emergency Management Agency/911 center reported during the same time period a year ago.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice issued a stay-at-home order on March 23 for the entire state. For the sake of comparison, the CVN requested reports from BCEMA/911 Director Michael Mahorn, and the numbers show a decided uptick in the aforementioned areas.

From March 1 through March 31, 2019, when combining domestic disputes, assaults, disturbances and gunshot wound-related calls to 911, they totaled 85 calls during the period with 52 of those calls directly related to domestic disputes/violence.

For the same time period in March 2020, there were a total of 106 calls related to domestic disputes, assaults, disturbances and gunshot wound-related incidents and 67 of those calls related to domestic disputes/violence.

Although the West Virginia Supreme Court has shut down court systems across the state, courts are still open for domestic violence and personal safety orders, which can be filed with the magistrate clerk in each county.

Boone County Magistrate Danny Moore, one of two in the county along with Neil Byrnside, confirmed that while there is a stay-at-home order in place, magistrates are still processing and working diligently on domestic cases in the court system.

Boone County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chad Barker confirmed a noticeable uptick in crime while expressing a desire for his office and those in the community to remain safe during the pandemic.

“It appeared the first few days of the government-issued order seemed to be pretty quiet; however, over the last five to six days, it has returned to business as usual,” Barker said. “Unfortunately, no matter how many precautions we take, we will never have the luxury of not being out in harm’s way.”

Barker said that following protocol is a priority.

“We are making a constant effort to stay up to par on the latest protocols and suggestions on how to remain healthy and still be effective,” he added. “We are following the guidance of the CDC, WHO, National Sheriffs’ Association, WV DHHR, Boone County Health Department and Boone County Emergency Operations Center. As you can imagine, getting the proper personal protective equipment and supplies in this time of need has been very difficult. The supplies have to go through so many hands before they trickle down to us. It just takes a while. Fortunately, we were able to put hands on a limited amount of supplies early on to get us an initial round of what we needed.”

Of the law enforcement officials around the county who were approached to speak on the topics, Madison Police Chief Chet Burgess responded.

“I don’t have those numbers in front of me at the moment, but it definitely feels that there is an uptick in domestic-related calls right now,” Burgess said. “I saw a report that the West Virginia State Police are reporting to more domestic calls during the stay-at-home order. I think here in the city, our overall calls might be down slightly. We have closed the parks and common areas, and we are directing people out of those areas. “

Burgess said that in communicating with the local homeless population and the “backpackers” in the area, he feels that they are largely disconnected and uninformed about the pandemic.

“I really feel that a large majority of them don’t know what is going on, which is concerning,” he said. “Our officers are doing their part to help educate when the opportunity arises and this includes myself. We can’t let people congregate in our common areas. We have gloves, masks and hopefully a few gowns coming next week. We are dealing with people outside as much as possible but sometimes, that can’t work so we have to enter a home. We are cognizant of that and are using good judgment. The call really dictates how we handle it. The goal is to keep exposure down for them and us both.”

For survivors of rape, Contact Rape Crisis Center is not providing face-to-face advocacy for victims in the hospital, with law enforcement or the court system at this time, but its hotline is still available 24 hours a day. Call the hotline at 304-399-1111 to speak to an advocate.

Additionally, Resolve Family Abuse covers Boone, Kanawha and Clay Counties. Reach them at 304-369-4189.

Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at pperry@hdmediallc.com or at 304-307-2401.