CECIL COUNTY — Law enforcement officers in Cecil County are still patrolling the roads, investigating crimes and performing their other duties amid the COVID-19 pandemic — but they are taking several precautions to prevent the spread of the virus while doing so.
“We are trying to maintain our distance from people, six feet whenever appropriate and whenever possible,” said Cecil County Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Holmes, a CCSO spokesman. “It is being done on a case-by-case basis. It all depends on the situation.”
Maryland State Police Lt. Jeffrey Kirschner, commander of the agency’s North East Barrack, echoed Holmes’ when listing measures troopers are taking to keep themselves and the public safe from possible exposure to the coronavirus.
“Troopers are still making traffic stops, but they are not asking drivers to hand them their licenses and registrations. Instead, troopers are asking the drivers to hold them (the documents) up so they can read them or they are asking the drivers to read them (aloud),” Kirschner told the Cecil Whig, explaining that the new protocol allows troopers to avoid touching paper and other materials.
Kirschner also reported that, under an emergency protocol, the North East Barrack isn’t nearly as accessible to the public as it had been before the coronavirus.
“The door is locked. We are not letting people into the barrack, unless they are there to report crimes,” Kirschner outlined.
As a result, citizens can no longer come to the barrack to request accident reports and to handle handgun transfers. People seeking those services are now referred to MSP’s Central Records Division and to the agency’s Licensing Division respectively, he reported. Those divisions can be reached online and by phone, Kirschner noted.
Both MSP and CCSO are evaluating all complaints and calls-for-service now, to determine if a matter must be handled in person by a trooper or deputy or if it can be handled over the phone, according to Kirshner and Holmes.
“If it is an assault-in-progress, or a burglary-in-progress or a robbery-in-progress or a domestic-in-progress, deputies are going to respond to the scene,” Holmes said, adding that deputies and investigators, of course, still will come to the scenes of murders and other major crimes.
But deputies will handle other incidents remotely whenever possible.
“If it is something that already occurred, like an old vandalism that was just discovered, and there is no evidence processing needed, we would get all of the information over the phone and file a report,” Holmes explained.
Kirschner listed a minor traffic accident with no injuries, just damage to vehicles, and a shoplifting discovered after the fact as examples of incidents that a duty officer would handle over the phone to make reports, instead of sending troopers to the scene.
Regarding a shoplifting discovered after the fact, investigators still would look at surveillance video supplied to them in an attempt to develop a suspect, Kirschner said. In addition, he added, troopers still would respond to a shoplifting-in-progress.
Calls-for-service and 911 calls received at the barrack also are being assessed more now than before COVID-19, to determine if a trooper needs to respond to the scene and, if so, to determine if he or she should take extra precautions.
“We are now asking qualifying questions. Does anyone inside the house have a cough or a fever? Has anyone inside the house been exposed to someone with the coronavirus or has someone inside the house tested positive for the coronavirus?” Kirschner said, giving some examples of the qualifying questions.
Wearing masks that cover the nose and mouth and wearing latex gloves are some of the precautions troopers can take when they must respond to scenes, according to Kirschner.
Troopers are now required to wipe down their patrol vehicles with alcohol-based wipes after every shift and after every time that they transport a prisoner, he reported.
CCSO is following similar preventative practices, according to Holmes.
“We have been outfitted with protective equipment,” Holmes said, qualifying that deputies can use masks and gloves when they deem it necessary. “It really depends on the situation and the circumstances.”
Deputies also have been instructed to wipe down the surfaces of their patrol vehicles with alcohol-based wipes. “We’re trying to make everything as germ-free as much as possible,” Holmes commented.
Meanwhile, municipal police departments in Cecil County are following similar protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — including accessing calls-for-service to determine if an officer must respond to the scene or if the situation can be handled by phone, limiting public access to police stations and sanitizing patrol vehicles.
“We are doing everything we can to minimize our contact with people while still effectively performing our duties,” said Chief Darrell Hamilton of the North East Police Department.
Hamilton summarized, “No one can come into our station. They have to ring the bell, and they can talk to someone over the speaker. We are not going to any calls that can be handled by phone. We are not making any traffic stops, unless it is an egregious violation.”
Chief Allen Miller of the Perryville Police Department gave a similar listing of precautions, commenting, “We’re going to handle as many calls as we can by phone.”
Rising Sun Police Department officers are following similar protocols, too, according to RSPD Chief Francis “Skip” Peterson.
“We are limiting access to our station and to town hall. We are handling non-serious calls by phone. We also are social distancing as much as possible on patrols,” Peterson said, listing a few of the precautions he and his officers are taking.
Under an MSP directive, which is similar to ones now followed by the CCSO and town police departments, the following cases will be handled over the phone: malicious destruction of property, theft, tampering with a vehicle, attempted vehicle theft, credit or debit card theft, telephone misuse and trespassing if it is not in progress.
Law enforcement officers will continue to respond to the following incidents and will not take a report over the phone: Any incident that is in-progress; any incident in which the suspect is still on scene, in the vicinity, or the potential for immediate arrest exists; any incident in which there is any injury or the likelihood for injury exists; any incident in which an identifiable suspect exists or there is physical evidence.