Life’s changed a lot for most people in the last few weeks with the Coronavirus pandemic essentially shutting down most facets of life.
For local law enforcement, though, things have pretty much stayed the same.
“We’re watching what’s going on across the state, and paying attention to what other agencies are doing,” Sanford Police Chief Ronnie Yarborough said. “And we’re seeing some steps taken in bigger departments. But we haven’t had any major changes since this all came on.”
There have been some minor changes — dispatchers in the 911 call center are now asking questions about where callers have been in recent weeks so they can best notify emergency responders about exactly what they’re responding to — and Yarborough said that as the pandemic worsens, there are steps he could see taking that would change operations in more dramatic way.
“Some of your cities are starting to restrict vacation time and off duty work, and that’s something to ensure that you have the availability of officers in case you need it,” he said. “But we have not seen it come to that.”
Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter said the major change in his operations is the availability of school resource officers to work in other areas since schools are closed until at least May 15. But even with extra deputies on the road, Carter said he’s not seeing any kind of increase in crime or other activity.
“We still want to take care of our kids, and so some of those officers are helping with Backpack Pals and giving out meals at the schools,” he said. “But we have the option to have them on the road if needed, which is always a help. We’re actually seeing a little bit of a decrease in activity, which is because so many people are staying home.”
Yarborough said likewise, his officers aren’t seeing much of a change in the type of calls they have to respond to daily.
“I don’t know of anything as far as disorder in stores or anything like that,” he said. “At this point in time, it appears the help is there for people who need it. But that could change if it gets worse. If people are out of work, out of income, you could see things change. We hope it does not come to that.”
Carter said law enforcement personnel typically have a lot of compassion for the people in the communities they serve, and as such understand that any trying times — not to mention a pandemic — are stressful for everyone.
“I get a paycheck, but what about all those people that work in restaurants, in grocery stores? There may be a point in about eight weeks where we have to ask ourselves ‘what are we going to do?’” he said. “I know the stimulus is going to help some, but what happens after that?”
And while a good many people are staying home, with kids out of school officers are prepared to see more young people out and about, regardless of what the government says. So far it hasn’t been a problem for either department.
“We always worry about that when school is out, but hopefully some of these young people can take advantage of the situation,” Carter said. “I know restaurants are hurting, but there might be a grocery store or a factory or a gas station out there that would hire these 16 and 17 and 18 year olds. We’re all challenged to think outside the box.”
At the end of the day, even with protocols for proper hygiene and guidelines on how close they should get to community members, law enforcement has a job to do. And that job is risky anyway, pandemics aside.
“We’ve got to respond to our calls. This is just an added danger of the job these guys have,” Yarborough said.
— Gordon Anderson
COVID-19 STORIES IN OUR APRIL EDITION
- The virus’ effect on our local economy
- The changing face of local education
- A hit to the local restaurant and bar industry
- New concerns for local law enforcement
- Abrupt end to a promising Southern Lee baseball season
- A family on the frontlines
- Column: There’s good to be found in these tough times
- Column: Finding comfort in Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’