Policing During a Pandemic (Part 1): A New Normal
Policing today is much different than in was in your grandfather’s day. Local police have discovered and implemented community policing models that focus more on outreach and prevention.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic came along, which forced further change.
“What we’ve really been trying to do is to stay on top of the most current information,” said Crystal Deputy Police Chief Brian Hubbard. “What PPEs [personal protective equipment] do we use? When do we use them? Do you have a mask on all the time, do you have a mask on some of the time?”
Questions like those and staying on top them isn’t easy. Brooklyn Park police have had to rethink how it responds to 911 calls.
“We had to reassess our primary function, which is responding to 911 calls,” said Brooklyn Park Deputy Police Chief Mark Bruley. “We really had to make sure that we’re committed to having the staff that worked no matter what, 24 hours a day. We really wanted to look at our staffing model to make sure that we could uphold our responsibility to respond to 911 calls.”
Departments like Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center and Golden Valley have officers working longer hours and fewer days a week to avoid a greater number of officers coming in contact with each other.
Domestics Increase, Burglaries “Almost Non-Existent”
In a profession that already deals with stressful situations, the pandemic has magnified that. For full-time Osseo police officers, it has meant spending more time on the job and less time at home.
“The other sacrifice our officers are making is there is no time off,” said Osseo Police Chief Shane Mikkelson. “We’re fully staffed working with our full-time officers. We’re not using part-time officers currently. These men and women of this police department are putting a lot on the line not being home with their families. Not being able to do anything or take time off to get away from work. They’re just putting in their days that they’re scheduled.”
Calls have gone up too. Some of that is attributed to citizens spending more time at home. Police say stress about work is another factor. It has resulted in an increase in some crime types and a decrease in others.
“Domestics are going up,” said Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson. “We’re trying to mitigate that. We’ve got a little small spike in overdoses.”
“We’re learning things have changed regarding crime, specifically burglaries are almost non-existent,” said Bruley with Brooklyn Park. “We believe that’s because people are just home. So there’s not that many opportunities for people to break into your house when you’re there 24 hours a day. But we have seen other crimes such as shoplifting be on the rise. Domestics, specifically some violent domestics, are on the rise. That’s probably also due to people being home.”
Police Departments Make Backup Plans
In Crystal, Hubbard has seen service calls ebb and flow.
“The first couple weeks of this we felt like our calls for service were down,” Hubbard said. “We’re seeing less things as people settled in and stayed in their house and tried to figure out what this was. People were scared to leave the house. Now as this thing evolves people are coming out of the house more. I would say that our actual calls for service have actually gone up in the last couple weeks from what our norm would be about this time.”
So far, northwest suburban police officers testing positive for COVID-19 has been rare. But things could change quickly. It’s why police departments say having a backup strategy is key.
“We are in the north planning group for emergency management and all of the law enforcement agencies have gotten together,” said Chief Mikkelson with Osseo police. “We have come up with a plan if this were to hit any of our agencies too hard, we would be able to lean on each other. To coordinate law enforcement services and keep moving on answering 911 calls and getting to where we need to be.”
In a future report, CCX News will look at whether officers are easing up on enforcing minor infractions in the pandemic.