No days off for police departments during coronavirus outbreak

Police are often in some of the most vulnerable positions.

March 14, 2020, 5:03 AM

As the novel coronavirus spreads, police departments around the country are continuing to do their job, and police the community.

Law enforcement officers come into contact with people on the front lines every day, Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told ABC News in an interview.

"It's not entirely possible for the police to practice social distancing the way community members get to. They, by definition, have to interact with the community. So how do you have them interact with the community? And also keep them healthy," Wexler said.

The Kansas City, Missouri, police department has a policy in place to deal with communicable diseases, a department spokesman told ABC News.

Kansas City's chief of police has also sent messages to officers reminding them to wash their hands and offered guidance when responding to welfare calls. For instance, if they come into contact with someone exhibiting signs of illness, they are advised to conduct their response outdoors or on front porches. Officers also have been advised to distance themselves at least six feet away from individuals during response calls.

Wexler said that many police departments practice for pandemics and how to deal with them.

"This is a crisis that many police departments have planned for," Wexler said.

In North Miami, Chief Larry Juriga, told ABC News they are stressing calmness in this time of crisis to residents.

"We want to provide accurate information and just reassure the community that we're providing the right amount of service, the right amount of equipment if necessary, and then also give our give our staff the necessary equipment," Juriga said.

Juriga compared the anxiety of the outbreak to the anxiety of hurricanes, which are prevalent in Florida.

"During a hurricane, everybody's fear is heightened, their anxieties heightened, and their uncertainty is high. We want our men and women to be the ones out there reassuring the community," he said.

He said they have plans to telework and are considering moving to teleworking starting next week.

Juriga also stressed that they are working together with the CDC and local health officials to get accurate information out to the community.

Wexler expressed the need for "good working relationships with public health officials in the community."

PHOTO: In this Jan. 1, 2019, file photo, members of the Rhode Island State Police attend inauguration ceremonies at the State House in Providence, R.I.
In this Jan. 1, 2019, file photo, members of the Rhode Island State Police attend inauguration ceremonies at the State House in Providence, R.I.
Michael Dwyer/AP, FILE

In Rhode Island, one of the first states to report a U.S. case of the coronavirus, the deputy superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Barry, told ABC News that if a state trooper contracts the virus, they are going to follow the CDC guidelines.

“We have to quickly assess the contact that he or she had with other troopers, where they’ve been as far as whether they were in court, so that would be a response that we would need to take right away to make sure that we're ensuring that the other people that he or she had contact with that aren't now showing similar symptoms,” Barry explained.

Decontamination is a big component of keeping the public and the troopers safe, he said.

"We have our cells being decontaminated. If we believe that there's somebody in there, they're showing symptoms of it. But, we’re not overreacting to the point where every time we take somebody into custody or deal with somebody that we're decontaminating a cruiser or we're decontaminating a cell, but we have those policies, and we have those resources readily available, if they're needed," he continued.

In Washington state, where police departments are already feeling the effects of the virus, the Bellvue police department has extensive training and preparedness plans in place for officers.

"All of our officers back in the Ebola outbreak, went through extensive training, and we've reaffirmed that training and have personal protection gear and we have steps in place to help prevent exposure," Meeghan Black, Bellvue Police Department's public information officer told ABC News. "On a case-by-case basis, we will be seeing if anyone's exhibiting symptoms, and then there will be self-isolation," Black continued.

The effect on policing is notable, she explained.

"We are a highly trained department and so that de-escalation and just listening and, practicing those good social distancing skills and explaining to a resident why we are doing this and that this is for their protection. When officers are pulling folks over, they're stepping back from the car and they're talking with them and limiting that exposure," Black said.

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