RED BANK, NJ: What is most oppressive is the anxiety. The not knowing.
Not knowing if I’m positive, if my loved ones are positive, if my friends are positive.
It’s the anxiety of dealing with the isolation day after day after day.
And most of us have it easy.
We’re not on the front lines like healthcare workers, the police, those who work in supermarkets and all the others whose job requires them to interact with the public.
These people are potentially exposed to the deadly COVID-19 virus every day.
Isolation makes for fear. Fear makes for poor decisions.
And when people make poor decisions, that’s when the police may be called.
TAPinto Red Bank submitted questions to Police Chief Darren McConnell so that the residents can get an understanding of how the department is operating during this pandemic emergency.
TAPinto: Back at the “house,” how does the department manage the 6-foot distance between your law enforcement officers (LEO's) and personnel?
McConnell: We have adjusted our staffing to minimize the number of personnel who would be interacting with each other and forming small groups of officers so that they are consistently working with the same officers, minimizing contact with other squads. In this manner, if we have an unfortunate occurrence of a member getting sick, the number of officers he/she has been in contact with will be minimal.
TAPinto: What protocols have the RBPD put into place for handling suspects when being questioned or arrested?
McConnell: Following guidance provided by the Attorney General’s Office, where a physical arrest can be avoided or charging for non-violent crimes can be delayed, we are doing that. In the event an arrest is mandatory or otherwise necessary, we do our best to avoid unnecessary physical contact.
Our officers have been issued PPE (Personal Protection Equipment), and it is being worn as necessary. Fortunately, with only a few exceptions we have not had many instances where we needed to make an immediate arrest and officers have been able to deal with issues using other means.
We were able to obtain a disinfecting system that we use on our patrol cars regularly, and two local companies have provided their professional services to clean and disinfect our vehicles and headquarters. A huge “thank you” to All American Restoration and Coastal Building Maintenance.
TAPinto: What changes have you made to your response protocols and how has this pandemic affected your call volume?
McConnell: We have experienced an expected decrease in calls for service generally speaking. We are monitoring our call volume closely and analyzing whether we need to make adjustments to our resource allocation as we expect call volume may begin to increase again in the coming weeks.
We have implemented significant modifications to our response protocols accepting many police reports over the phone to avoid unnecessary close contact interactions with the public.
Our dispatchers also ask each caller a series of questions designed to determine if there is a health risk associated with the location of the call or any parties present.
Under many circumstances, we ask reporting parties to meet our officers outside to make a police report that cannot be made over the phone. These steps are all designed to mutually protect our officers and other first responders as well as the public. Of course, if the nature of the call dictates that officers intervene to protect the public or take enforcement action, they do so, utilizing the appropriate PPE when possible.
TAPinto: Being a LEO is a high stress job. What’s the morale of the officers and what advice are you giving them?
McConnell: Our officers are doing extremely well. While this is stressful and certainly nothing we ever trained for, police officers are very resourceful, and they are accustomed to adapting to changing and unpredictable situations.
We have implemented various changes in our procedures and methods over the past few weeks and the level of cooperation has been nothing short of outstanding. Our officers always work exceptionally well together and function as a family and in times such as this it is more important than ever.
My primary goal has been the safety of the officers and their families and maintaining our ability as a department to deliver law enforcement services to the community throughout this crisis. Thus far we have been able to do that beyond all expectations and I’m confident that will continue.
TAPinto: Have all officers and personnel been tested for the Coronavirus? Are they re-tested and how often? Have any officers been ordered to stay at home because of test results?
McConnell: We are not routinely testing our officers. We have several avenues to get officers tested if and when the need arises thanks to the efforts of FEMA and our state and county partners as well as the kindness of local healthcare professionals who have offered assistance.
We have had a few officers temporarily out of work out of an abundance of caution due to possible exposures. However, thus far we have been operating at or close to full staffing levels throughout the crisis.
TAPinto: If the RBPD quarantines a significant number of LEO’s, what’s the contingency plan?
McConnell: The goal from the beginning has been to avoid such a scenario. By limiting the exposure of our personnel to the public and to each other, we will be able to avoid widespread quarantines.
Of course, in planning for worst case scenarios, we have officers in administrative and investigative roles who are prepared to assume patrol functions if any significant part of our force becomes unavailable.
TAPinto: With the weather about to turn warmer, more people will want to be outdoors. What are the suggestions to the community on how to get outdoors without jeopardizing one another?
McConnell: While we encourage everyone to get outside and get exercise for both their physical and mental well-being, they should religiously practice social distancing and follow the current CDC guidance, even considering wearing a surgical type mask or other face covering.
People should limit their activities to interact with only those with whom they live, rather than being exposed to other friends or family. We have followed the lead of the state and county and have closed our parks as of April 8th. This is due to the fact that these areas are becoming too crowded and creating a hazardous situation regarding the spread of this virus.
While most people are doing a great job of social distancing and appear to really be trying, the next few weeks will be extremely important and we must not become complacent.
TAPinto: What can the community do for the LEO?
McConnell: Our community has been extremely supportive of our department, and we are very appreciative. We have received valuable donations of masks and gloves from contractors and dentists which we have put to use on a daily basis. We also have received donations of meals which is a huge boost to officers’ morale and just demonstrates the kindness of the residents and business owners in our town, many of whom are suffering financially, yet still think of our officers.
Most importantly, people can help our officers by simply abiding by the orders issued by the Governor all of which are aimed at curbing the spread of this virus and flattening the curve.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to our healthcare workers and they should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. They are quite literally putting their lives on the line to help everyone, and by complying with social distancing and taking the recommended precautions we can help them to get us through this pandemic.
Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, remarked, “It’s difficult. But it’s not more difficult than what America has done in the past.”
Marta Joy Quinn contributed to this article.
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