BARNEGAT, NJ - When it comes to transparency, Barnegat Police Chief Keith Germain has taken to weekly live chats regarding the coronavirus crisis. He’s also provided some insight into changing trends in police calls. The “ new normal” within the police department starts as simple as uniform assignments.
Before COVID-19 came anywhere near the area, Barnegat police officers were outfitted with gear that brought them to the head of the class in law enforcement gear. The township’s investment in bulletproof vests had a distinct purpose. With safety concerns a priority, the rank and file now have a brand-new look.
“We wear Tyvek suits over our uniforms,” shared Barnegat Police Sergeant Andrew Parsley. “At the end of the day, they get thrown away.”
In addition to the coveralls, Barnegat officers wear N95 or P100 masks, as well as eye protection. They use latex gloves on every call and change them frequently. The goal is to limit exposure for both the officers and members of the community.
Parsley started with the Barnegat Police Department in 2005 and was promoted to sergeant in 2018. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology, which likely helps him understand people. Parsley has always known he wanted to be a police officer. He’s well aware that his job puts his life at risk. Only, he never imagined the threat could come from a pandemic.
To outsiders, uniforms are the most visible transformation when it comes to the Barnegat Police Department. For officers themselves, their standard operating procedure has changed to accommodate the times. As the sergeant on the evening shift, Parsley shared some details.
“Prior to reporting to duty, officers are required to send me a photograph displaying their temperature,” said Parsley. “If they are above 99°, they aren’t allowed to come into work.”
It’s always been the procedure for Parsley to meet with officers at the beginning of the shift. However, now the police sergeant calls them in individually from their cars. The goal is to limit contact as much as possible. This extends to entire squad briefings, which are done by a video application.
Part of the novel approach in keeping things safe includes taking advantage of the setup within the police department. There’s always been a separate side for the Investigative and Patrol Division. However, now the split serves a different purpose.
At the end of the shift, officers decontaminate the side assigned to them. However, the next squad that comes in doesn’t take any chances. For example, if the last shift used the Investigative Division, new reports go into patrol.
When it comes to police calls, Parsley acknowledged that the general volume has decreased significantly. Officers try to handle as much as they can with limited contact, including telephone reports. That said, domestic violence complaints have increased the most.
“This is really where our de-escalation training has helped quite a bit,” Parsley shared. “As an agency, we’re using our words to get people to listen to us.”
In some cases, this involves asking residents to step out of their homes and onto their lawns. Police officers carry disposable masks and stress social distancing during their encounters.
Parsley is a big proponent of physical training and finds it especially critical because police work is stressful. With gyms closed, one of the newer officers has organized a workout using technology.
“It’s keeping the guys active and moving,” said Parsley. “It’s a good thing.”
At the end of the day, Parsley acknowledges that he can’t find a rhyme or reason to the disease. He knows it hits people of all ages, even those without underlying health conditions.
“All of our officers are extremely appreciative of the means our agency has taken to protect us,” Parsley said. “However, we still worry we could bring the virus home.”
The Tyvek suit becomes waste prior to Parsley heading to his house. However, before he even greets his wife and children, Parsley removes the rest of his uniform. He’s not taking any chances.
As far as new norm for life in general, the Barnegat police sergeant sees a ripple effect after things open up. He sees more people cognizant of personal hygiene and less shaking hands. Tomorrow’s world may never go back to life as it was.