Coronavirus & Law Enforcement: What Happens When Police Get Sick?

The world is currently facing a pandemic. Shelves at the grocery store are empty, schools are canceling classes, gyms are closing down, and people are staying indoors. However, some people need to continue with work. Someone needs to be at the grocery store to stock up the shelves. Someone needs to be at the hospital to take care of the sick. And police officers and first responders need to continue to be a resource to the public safety.

The Protocols in Place

As police officers can’t practice social distancing, agencies are trying to initiate some safety protocols recommended by the Centre for Disease Control. Some police departments are supplying their officers with protective equipment such as disposable gloves and eye protection (goggles). Additionally, officers responding to a call with someone with a respiratory illness are told to proceed with caution.

Looking to the Future

In the next few weeks, as cases of coronavirus increase in the United States, the public should prepare themselves for the consequences this pandemic will have on our justice system. If the number of available officers depletes, response times to 9-1-1 calls will inevitably lengthen. 

Additionally, the legal system is going to see a natural slow-down. While individuals usually have “the right to a speedy trial,” this may no longer be the case for a while. Judges have started to postpone trials, clear courtrooms, and restrict possibly infected people from the court. 

Washington, which is currently a hotspot for coronavirus cases, recently decided to excuse jury duty for anyone:

  • Over 60
  • With underlying health conditions
  • That is pregnant
  • That has a weakened immune system

And, the Supreme Court made the decision to close its doors to the public.

The Contingency Plan

Police officers and first responders are particularly at high-risk as they engage with the public for work and often have to respond to calls where someone may be sick. As the current public system has yet to experience a pandemic like this, police departments have begun to put contingency plans into place. If agencies lose 40% of their officers on duty, they need to have a backup plan to keep the peace.

Some contingency ideas being considered are:

  • Relocating staff from other agencies 
  • Deploying trainees
  • Deploying retirees
  • Restricting certain types of service calls 
  • Eliminating any vacation leave requests, so all hands are on duty
  • Pulling desk staff to become street cops for a while 

While it can be challenging to predict how all of this will pan out, it’s important that agencies are putting plans into place to protect their police officers. In times like this, we are yet again reminded of the sacrifices public safety employees make for the greater good.

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