The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has hit the United States hard: we now have the most cases in the world. And law enforcement agencies who are on the front lines are seeing this virus take a toll on their workforce. Members are increasingly testing positive for COVID-19, while others are being quarantined due to exposure.
As the coronavirus continues to impact the law enforcement workforce, agencies are now forced to rethink their operations.
How Law Enforcement Operations are Responding to COVID-19
So far, there have been numerous news reports of agencies making policy changes to the way they police their communities due to COVID-19.
Many agencies are limiting what they will respond to and what action they will take if they do respond. They are also developing policy on when they will make immediate arrests in the field and when they will instead issue citations or seek a future arrest warrant.
For instance, many departments will no longer respond to non-violent crime or motor vehicle accidents with no injuries.
Chicago PD announced that certain crimes will no longer require handcuffing or bringing the suspect in for arrest processing. These types of crimes will be handled in the street by issuing the suspect a citation to appear in court later.
Philadelphia PD has told their officers that certain nonviolent crimes will be handled by identifying the suspect in the field and later an arrest warrant can be issued for that suspect for the crime in question.
Maintaining Continuity of Operations & Providing for Public Safety
In affected communities (which is quickly becoming the majority of communities), law enforcement operations may have to be altered in order to effectively respond to incidents and protect both citizens and first responders from otherwise preventable exposures.
At a high level, one approach would be to consolidate operations into a two-prong delivery of police services:
- The first prong consists of a patrol team who are trained and equipped to respond to emergencies with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
- The second prong is a support team that relies on an online system to receive and promptly follow-up on submissions from citizens from a secure remote location.
#1. Patrol Team Responsibilities
The patrol team provides routine patrols to maintain order and create a presence that conveys a sense of security to the community. When it comes to calls for service, the patrol team members are reserved strictly for emergency response and delivery of critical on-scene duties.
If a call is an emergency, a past violent crime, or a crime in progress requiring immediate police intervention, members of the patrol team are dispatched. When they’re dispatched, they should:
- Address the emergency while donning proper personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Clear the scene as rapidly as reasonably possible
- Opt to not fill out the incident report on-scene and, instead, provide the citizen a pre-printed form with their name and instructions on how to access an online portal to electronically complete and submit their report – where appropriate
If a call is a non-emergency, or for a past crime where there’s been no serious injury and no crime scene needs to be established, then the caller is directed to the agency’s online reporting portal. Phone lines may be used, but their effectiveness can be minimal, especially when the phone line is strained. Even a relatively low volume of phone calls can quickly lead to problems when complainants have to be placed on hold and end up becoming frustrated.
When filling out the online form, the citizen will enter the officer’s information to cross-reference the complaint back to the officer that was on scene. This frees up the officer and limits further preventable exposure.
#2. Support Team Responsibilities
A separate support team is made up of a remote group of workers, which, where appropriate, could include officers who are quarantined due to exposure but not sick or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The agency must leverage a web-based system to allow these workers to work remotely, collaborate with co-workers and communicate with complainants.
The support team logs into the system to review and follow-up on the citizen submissions.
Their duties would include the following:
- Supervisory review of submission and assignment to proper personnel for follow-up
- Remote communication and interviews with complainant and witnesses for information gathering and documentation via e-mail and phone
- Properly classifying the incidents as crimes or non-crimes
- Entering any valid criminal incident information into the agencies complaint system (RMS system) and cross-referencing the citizen submissions with the Incident #
- Notifying Detectives if further criminal investigation is warranted or arrest warrants are appropriate
- Notifying the Patrol force if a non-emergency scene response needs to be scheduled (i.e., abandoned auto needs to be towed, etc.)
- Communicating incident disposition back to the citizen involved and providing copies of any relative police reports via email. (It is recommended that any fees normally imposed to complainants for copies of reports be waived during this period.)
We hope this is helpful to your law enforcement agency. God Bless and stay safe.
About the Author: Michael Cunningham is a seasoned member of law enforcement with more than 27 years of experience in the New York City Police Department. He achieved Detective First Grade in December 2009 and, although now retired from the department, stays active in the industry instructing courses in forensics and response to terrorist incidents.
About the Author: Ed Wallace is an experienced, certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst and retired First Grade Detective from the New York City Police Department. Ed has more than 20 years of experience in Crime Scene Investigation, Shooting Reconstruction, Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, Fire Investigation, Post Blast Investigation, Hazardous Materials, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives and Counterterrorism Investigations.