COVID-19 adds hazards for police

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Police officers around the state are on the front lines of COVID-19 but say this new threat won’t stop them from doing their duty.

“We are used to being on edge and knowing that every contact with someone could not go well, and the addition of the coronavirus just adds more of the unknown,” said Big Rapids police Sgt. Liz West. 

The emergence of the coronavirus is something no police officer can be trained for, said Matt Saxton, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

“No one has ever seen something like this,” Saxton said.

He said first responders are practicing social distancing, disinfecting and washing their hands to try to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

“County jails have also stopped allowing in-person visitation and instead have given inmates more phone calls,” Saxton said.

In Detroit, the epicenter of the coronavirus in Michigan, 20% of the police department had to be quarantined after 39 officers tested positive and two others died from the virus. 

Despite the danger, Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller III said police officers have a job to do,

“The men and women of law enforcement go out every day, and their goal is to protect their community, to work as a team and to help their citizens,” Fuller said.

And West said that won’t change in these uncertain times.

Many officers have found a way to a new reality in these difficult times through added time with their families

“A silver lining of this situation is that I get to spend more time with my husband and son, which makes dealing with the added stress easier,” West said.

“For the foreseeable future, this is the new normal, however crazy that might sound, but all we can do is trust our fellow officers and continue to serve the public,” West said. 

As for restraints on interaction with the public, Ishpeming Township police Chief Mike Kohler said, “Officers must use their own discretion and determine if face to-face contact is necessary,” 

That discretion can mean going to calls when people are under the threat of physical harm or danger and only respond over the phone if the situation allows it, Kohler said.

“A certain level of anxiety is expected in this uncharted territory,” he said.

And Big Rapids police Officer Riley Carlson, who has been on the job only two years, said, “With the job comes stress, and continuing my same hobbies of working on cars and spending time with friends help with that.” 

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