Police are trying to keep more than arm’s length from people during these pandemic days, but that’s not always possible.
Officers sometimes have to wrestle, said Chief Deputy Craig Strouse of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, and that usually means no time to put on gloves or masks.
“You’ve got to take the risk, because that’s the job,” agreed Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore.
On the other end of the spectrum, police are using their phones to interview people in minor cases, such as thefts with no suspects, Moore said.
In between, officers have other ways of staying as far from the virus as they can.
One way is a system in which the Rock County Health Department tells Rock County Communications dispatchers which homes contain people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Dispatchers will then tell the officers when they are called to one of those homes, although people won’t hear that with their police scanners. Information is sent to the officers’ squad car computers.
Officers are unlikely to encounter that situation now, but the number of cases is expected to rise.
A more common way to assess the danger is what police call a doorjamb assessment. They ask: Is anyone feeling sick in the house? Is anyone sneezing? Does anyone have the chills or a fever? If they do, police are likely to put on masks and gloves before entering.
In some cases, deputies simply might ask someone to step outside to talk, while maintaining a 6-foot distance, said Sheriff Troy Knudson.
Rock County Public Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval noted many people won’t know they have the virus, so even those precautions might not protect officers from residents or vice versa.
“At any point, anybody could be exposed,” Sandoval said.
Data collected around the world so far show up to 80% of those infected might have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, Sandoval said.
“We’ll never know for sure, and that’s the message we need get out to the public,” Sandoval said. “Every single person you encounter could spread it to anybody else. So that’s the real fear.”
Knudson said Tuesday he was encouraged to see no deputy called in sick, and in the jail, no one is known to be sick with COVID-19.
Moore said by Tuesday, Janesville police will be checking each officer’s temperature at the beginning of a shift. That’s something also done to each new inmate at the jail.
Moore said he ordered all officers with beards to shave them so masks will fit as tightly as possible.
Moore has noticed officers wearing latex gloves more frequently, but masks are usually used only in certain instances.
“This (situation) is concerning to officers because they’re concerned about their health as well as their families’ health, so we are trying to work through this as safely as possible,” Moore said.
“There are risks to doing this type of work,” Strouse said. “I think we have mitigated all the risks we can and still remain operationally sufficient.”
And so far, residents have responded well and have cooperated with deputies, Strouse said.
The sheriff’s office reports it has enough masks, gloves and other protection equipment on hand—for now. Strouse said the demand could spike, however, if officers have to deal with an outbreak in the jail or a surge in infections in the rest of the community.
“As law enforcement officers, there is some frustration that we may run out, but at the end of the day we’re going to do our job, and it’s going to be OK,” he said. “This country will pull out of it, and we’re going to keep the community safe, whether we have those devices or not.”
Strouse acknowledged at times officers will need to rush into a situation without regard to getting infected.
At those times, “We have a job to do, and by the grace of God, we’ll be all right,” he said.