Park County law enforcement personnel face unusual challenges and life-threatening situations on a regular basis. For them, risking their personal well-being in the line of duty is simply part of a day’s work. They are also the most apt and qualified among us to do so.
But in the midst of a viral pandemic, the traditional hazards of their jobs have remained constant, while new ones have emerged. Crimes are still being committed, and citizens still need help. Meanwhile, the men and women of the Park County Sheriff’s Office have been dutifully performing the already difficult business of law enforcement under the constant threat of a brand new enemy called the coronavirus.
But how have they adapted to a fast-spreading viral pandemic, both as a department, and as individuals? Have they managed to stay healthy even though human contact is essential in the performance of their job duties? Has the coronavirus impacted theyway they approach their jobs, especially in emergency situations? What happens if they become sick? What happens if people they arrest become sick? How do they protect prisoners? What precautions have they taken? Have those precautions been effective?
Sheriff Tom McGraw recently discussed the department’s response to the coronavirus, and the unique challenges it poses.
“Across the board, from deputies, to office staff and jail personnel, there has been not one instance when there has been a lack of willingness to carry on and do the job despite the risks,” McGraw said. “And we have been very fortunate to have had no cases of the virus in the jail, and our staff has stayed healthy.”
According to McGraw, a lengthy list of precautions and processes have been adopted to keep all Sheriff’s Office personnel safe. Some, but not all of them include:
All personnel undergo a temperature check when they arrive for work.
Everyone at the County Jail undergoes a temperature check daily.
All employees wear N-95 protective masks.
All employees thoroughly wash hands with soap and water prior to starting their shifts.
Masks are worn during all traffic stops.
Officers clean hands after all traffic stops, and especially following arrests.
Dispatchers are trained to ask specific coronavirus-related questions before officers respond to a call.
If an officer, or any employee, is believed to have been exposed, they are placed on a 72-hour quarantine and must wear a mask at all times for at least 11 days after returning to work.
Fingerprints are not currently being collected for VIN collections.
The jail, as well as all county vehicles, are regularly decontaminated with the use of atomizers.
Doing the job
“We still have to respond to traditional emergencies, and we still have to carry out the responsibilities of our jobs,” McGraw said. “There is no way around that. But we are, as a department, taking this very seriously and doing all we can to minimize risks. Even in a routine traffic stop, you have to handle driver’s licenses and paperwork. Then when you make an arrest, of course, you really have to use all the precautions you can.”
As for the calls being received, and the nature of those calls, McGraw says domestic disturbance has been on the increase. He said that despite the economic woes associated with the coronavirus, there has not been any increase in theft-related calls.
“People are hurting, and when you are out there all the time you can tell that,” McGraw said. “Many of them are without work, missing the paychecks they usually receive, and they are suffering because of it.”
When asked his vision for how and when we return to normalcy, McGraw expressed the same sentiments expressed by other county officials during recent weeks.
“I am a little concerned that we might be relaxing too early,” McGraw said. “And I have heard some medical professionals who seem to agree. It really does depend on how people comply with social distancing measures, too. If everyone complied with the things we have all been advised to do, then maybe we could relax some more.”
The county’s recent decision to place strict requirements on short-term rentals, according to McGraw, was a good one.
“When you consider the fact that twenty percent of emergency calls received by emergency responders originate from short-term rentals, and that includes both fire and law enforcement emergency calls, then I think that should have been addressed,” McGraw said.
McGraw also verified that, as of April 22, there were seven confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“I’ve been a little surprised that the cases have remained so low in Park County, and I have been a little surprised by how high the number of cases have been in some of the surrounding counties,” McGraw said.”