Local law enforcement establishes plan to keep cities covered during pandemic

  • Tue Mar 24th, 2020 4:00pm
  • News

Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers said his department has made contingency plans with Aberdeen and Cosmopolis police for staffing should an agency find itself with reduced staffing due to illness.

“We have established emergency staffing plans … in case any one of our three agencies end up short-handed because officers are out sick,” said Myers. “We are planning ahead, but staying focused on your safety today.”

Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate has been working closely with Myers on those plans and said a plan is in place between the agencies “if, heaven forbid, we were to have staff infected with COVID-19 to make sure our cities are covered.”

“The general message is we’re in unprecedented times but as a community if we just follow the guidance that has been provided by the Governor’s Office and the Department of Health we will get through this,” said Shumate. “Within the agency I believe we have a pretty good handle on it and are prepared for something that hopefully doesn’t get too terribly worse.”

Aberdeen officers, like others, are being screened for symptoms of the virus, and if they are found to be running a temperature are sent home and monitored from there, said Shumate. He added the department has masks and gloves and, thanks to the Westport Winery, a decent supply of hand sanitizer. The winery/distillery made sanitizer and donated it to the police.

It’s important for citizens to remain vigilant and look out for one another, said Myers.

“Especially in these challenging times, it is important to keep an eye out for each other and send the message that criminals will not be able to take advantage of this emergency in Hometown Hoquiam,” he said. “Just like citizens, criminals had better stay home too!”

Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott said that patrol deputies and correctional deputies are being asked to use the social distancing practice whenever possible.

“Obviously, that’s harder for the corrections officers, but those are challenges facing all our first responders,” said Scott. He said officers are asking people to come outside their homes when they respond and handling as many calls as possible over the telephone.

It’s important to keep the city’s department members at work, as no fire or police department has the depth to send employees home for two weeks in the event that they may have been exposed, said Myers.

“We are hoping we soon will have expedited virus testing for first responders so we can make informed decisions, instead of guessing, as to who should be at work and who needs to stay home,” said Myers.

“Crimes and emergencies don’t quit happening, so we’re training our staff to manage as best we can,” said Scott.

Tuesday morning, Myers posted on the department’s Facebook page about the department’s own practice of social distancing.

“Our department members are required to continue to work to serve our community, so we are just encouraging them to keep some distance, whenever possible,” said Myers. “So if we stand a little bit further away, or give you a phone call instead of first coming to your house on a complaint, we are just trying to do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Scott said the call volume has fluctuated in the last week or so.

“We had a relatively low call volume Friday, and then it picked up over the weekend,” said Scott, due to the large number of tourists who saw fit to visit the ocean beaches. “We’re hoping people stay home so we can lower the call volume, or people will just find a way to shelter in place.”

Shumate said, “generally speaking the number of calls have gone down” in Aberdeen, a sign, he believes, that people are starting to take the Governor’s orders to heart and sheltering at home whenever possible.

The way the Sheriff’s Office handles its investigations hasn’t changed.

“It depends on the nature of the case,” said Scott. “We do what we have to do, but we’re not going to compromise the quality of our investigations, especially in serious crimes.”

The Sheriff’s Office is limiting the jail population to the extent it can, but “with mandatory arrests and in serious crimes you still go to jail,” said Scott. Everyone entering the jail facility is screened for temperature before they’re admitted.

Myers said the department’s main priority is to maintain the level of service necessary to respond to calls for service, prevent crime and disorder and serve the citizens of Hoquiam.

“Our staffing level — plus just the danger from added exposure to our officers — does not include manning roadblocks or contacting everyone to see if they have a good reason to travel or be away from home,” said Myers. “The enforcement of this order is truly in your hands — not the police — because the actions you take are necessary to protect the vulnerable in our society. Our friends, our neighbors and our family members who are at risk.”

Shumate said he distributed some talking points to his staff, as numerous callers have been calling dispatch with questions regarding the stay at home order. He recommends anyone with questions about who is impacted by the Governor’s order go to the city website, where the 14-page list of “essential” workers is posted.

Myers included the following statements from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs:

“Law enforcement’s primary role is to help educate people about how to comply with orders to stay at home. We are not being asked to detain, arrest, ticket or establish checkpoints for compliance. Rumors of strict law enforcement or ‘martial law’ are not true.

“Our communities have shown they understand the severity of the situation and are doing all they can already to keep themselves, their families and neighbors safe and healthy. When officers and deputies encounter people not complying with an order, we will remind them, as appropriate, of the recommendation and restrictions. No law enforcement agencies have any desire to make any arrests or take anybody to jail for violations. Rumors of individuals or businesses needing ‘passes’ or ‘licenses’ to conduct essential services are not true.

“Rest assured we will continue to serve you every minute of every day and we will always enforce the laws that keep people safe.”

Scott advised everyone “to just stay calm. Please follow the governor’s proclamation and avoid gatherings, avoid leaving your home unless there is an emergent need to do so.”