How COVID-19 Is Affecting Police Officers
With the rapid spread of COVID-19, law enforcement agencies are racing to keep their officers and the public safe from the virus. Many criminal justice advocates have focused on the need to reduce jail populations, and others are suggesting changes to the way police handle calls for assistance in the community. With these changes, the coronavirus pandemic could have a lasting impact on law enforcement in the United States.
Taking Steps to Stay Safe
COVID-19 has affected almost every aspect of our daily lives, including how police and other officials handle emergencies in the community. These problems do not come without added expenses for the agencies. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic is so costly that Congress included about $850 million in the CARES Act to help law enforcement respond to and prevent a coronavirus outbreak in their communities. During these challenging times, many jurisdictions are ensuring that certain people will not be sent to jail. Serious offenders are still being arrested, but those who commit nonviolent crimes are often allowed to return home. Law enforcement agencies are modifying their practices to maintain physical distancing to keep the public and officers safe.
While keeping the community safe, law enforcement agencies are feeling the effects of the virus on their officers. For example, over 2,000 New York City police officers have tested positive for the virus with 20 percent in the ranks reporting being ill. Detroit has placed over 350 officers in quarantine as 400 police officers returned to work after sick leave.
If police agencies want to keep everyone safe during this pandemic, they will have to modify their practices. When making decisions, many law enforcement agencies are applying the “do no harm” model to their practices from making arrests to the use of force in the field. Today, an arrest is now seen as a last resort. By limiting the use of handcuffs, both the police officer and the accused will stay safe from an infection of COVID-19.
However, some people believe that incorporating physical distancing and other changes will harm public safety. While there is a cause for concern, police agencies are making minor adjustments to protect their staff and officers from the virus as they continue to serve the community. It is also vital for these departments to enact changes consistently. By doing so, law enforcement agencies can stop the spread of COVID-19 as they continue to protect the community.
Potential Changes to Law Enforcement
If a law enforcement agency wants to stop the spread of the virus, it will have to implement these policy procedures. In some cases, these measures might have a permanent effect on policing in America. During the virus outbreak, many people have called on police to reduce the number of custodial arrests and police stops. In some police departments, officers have been instructed to handle only the most serious calls and minimize stops for those low-level crimes.
In Philadelphia, officers were instructed to delay arrests for nonviolent crimes, such as narcotics offenses, burglary and prostitution. Washington D.C. officers issued citations and released individuals for a wide variety of crimes to reduce the number of custodial arrests in their jail systems. While this might be seen as an emergency measure, some agencies could continue with the practice to reduce jail overcrowding and keep the amount of contact between the police and the community to a minimum.
Police budgets continue to be a hot topic in many communities. There have been calls for officers to limit the number of in-person calls. Some people have suggested that to reduce the spread of COVID-19, police officers should not respond to non-emergency issues. Instead, officers will only respond to crimes that involve a threat to public safety or take place in areas where an investigation cannot be delayed. The public is encouraged to report these nonessential complaints to a non-emergency phone number or online portal.
Police agencies in Texas, California and Virginia are already implementing these procedures. These steps might help take the strain off the officers and allow them to focus on more critical crimes in their communities. If these cities are successful in reducing crime with social distancing, online crime portals may become the norm in the United States.
The virus has limited interactions between the police and the public, but there is a need for in-person contact for certain crimes. Most law enforcement agencies are starting to prioritize domestic violence calls. Since many people have been staying at home due to government orders, there has been an increase in domestic violence cases. Police officers are already trained on the warning signs of domestic abuse. When they respond to a call, these officers make sure that everyone in the residence remains safe. COVID-19 has drained certain resources, but many communities are making these calls a top priority. With strained relationships and stress from the pandemic, there is increased tension in many homes. The renewed focus on keeping domestic abuse victims safe and protecting the community should remain the goal for law enforcement agencies in the future.
Finally, due to the virus outbreak, many agencies have provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to all on-duty officers. These law enforcement agencies are also educating their officers on how to stay safe during the pandemic by properly washing their hands, sanitizing their work equipment and surfaces, and identifying the symptoms of COVID-19. They are also providing testing for all officers and staff. Officers are also required to stand at least 6 feet away from members of the public. Some departments, like in Philadelphia and Austin, require their officers to wear masks while on duty. In Los Angeles, patrol officers have a PPE kit that includes goggles, a mask and gloves. These officers also must adhere to safety guidelines when interacting with the public. When the virus fades away, many agencies could still implement these strategies to keep their officers healthy and prevent another virus outbreak in their communities.
The Future of Policing
While most procedures are created to keep officers and the public safe during this pandemic, many of these changes might become the future of policing. In the future, law enforcement agencies will continue to be concerned about the welfare of the public and their officers. Some crime reporting will be designated to online portals as patrol officers handle serious offenses. Improved safety measures, such as increased sanitation in patrol vehicles and jail facilities, can help stop the spread of other infectious diseases. These COVID-19 procedures will have a lasting effect on the future of law enforcement in the United States.
Morristown Criminal Defense Lawyer
While some of these changes are in effect at many police agencies, others might still hesitate to alter their procedures. COVID-19 is still an issue for many law enforcement agencies. However, that does not mean that all arrests have been halted during this time. Police officers continue to charge individuals with serious offenses. If this has happened to you, it might be time to turn to a Morristown criminal defense lawyer.
During this pandemic, our offices are open, and we’re ready to help with your case. You want to choose an attorney who has the experience to handle criminal cases in New Jersey. If you have been arrested or need help with a criminal case, you should contact Gregg A. Wisotsky, Esq. at (973) 898-0161. You can also go online and schedule a free consultation.