March 25, 2020

 

PERF’s COVID-19 coronavirus resources, including past editions of the Daily COVID-19 Report, are available at https://www.policeforum.org/coronavirus.

Today’s PERF Daily COVID-19 Report focuses on the response of Sheriffs’ Offices. PERF is grateful to the Sheriffs who have sent us information about what they are doing to protect the public, their deputies and other personnel, as well as inmates who are under their authority. Please continue to send information to PERF Senior Associate Dan Alioto, who manages PERF’s Sheriffs Initiative, at [email protected]iceforum.org .

 

Reducing Jail Populations

Most Sheriffs have dual responsibilities, operating jails as well as providing patrol response and investigations, and the response to COVID-19 intersects both functions. Many sheriffs’ offices have told us they are scaling back enforcement of minor misdemeanors and traffic violations in order to reduce unnecessary interactions between officers and members of the public. This dialing-down of enforcement also serves the interest of reducing the influx of new inmates into jails, and thus lowering the risk of COVID-19 infections in jails. 

In some locations, courts have suspended operations, further reducing the processing of minor criminal cases.

“We encouraged chiefs to limit their discretionary arrests to avoid jail. Let’s keep the inmates we have healthy,” Sheriff Tim Leslie of Dakota County, MN told PERF. “And it has been effective. We have gone from having 230 in custody last week to 140 today. There’s less chance or passing the infection on to the inmates, medical staff, and corrections officers when we have less people and less turnover of inmates. And yesterday we got a court order allowing the sheriff to quash all misdemeanor warrants except as stated. Our bench has been great to work with and ‘gets it.’ ”

 

Defining How Deputies Should Respond to Potential COVID Exposures

Bryan Howard, Chief of the Patrol Operations Division of the King County, WA Sheriff’s Office in Seattle, provided PERF with an excellent set of documents that provide specific guidance for employees. For example, the first document below is a flow chart that tells employees what they should do if they are exposed at work to a potential COVID patient or to a confirmed COVID patient. In the case of being exposed to a confirmed COVID patient, the guidance differs depending on whether the employee was wearing proper PPE at the time. The second document provides similar guidance regarding what employees should do if a member of their household has COVID symptoms or has been a confirmed positive for COVID-19.

 

Comprehensive Protocols

The Jefferson County, CO Sheriff’s Office provided PERF with a comprehensive list of actions that Sheriff Jeff Shrader has taken to protect his employees, jail inmates, and the public, excerpted below:

  • All public lobbies have been closed through this week, with the exception of the jail bonding lobby.
  • Division Chiefs have the authority to allow employees to work remotely if doing so is a viable option for the nature of their work.

Patrol:

  • Deputies should take the following actions:
  • Handle as many calls by phone as possible;
  • Limit contact with citizens; issue mask to sick citizens when in contact;
  • Disinfect passenger areas of patrol vehicles after each transport;
  • Do not respond to medical/sick calls unless absolutely necessary;
  • Limit citizen contact to one deputy when possible;
  • Make contacts outside of residences and other buildings;
  • Limit traffic stops to only motorists jeopardizing the public’s safety;
  • Avoid low-level warrant arrests when possible.

Detentions:

  • Suspending all volunteer activities and detention programs;
  • Suspending on-site video visitation; Securus has enhanced remote video visitation opportunities;
  • Eligible inmates on work release will be transitioned to in-home detention;
  • Suspending service as a hub for Transports Across Colorado;
  • Special housing units will be utilized for isolation or quarantine of inmates as necessary.

Criminal Investigations:

  • Suspending mandatory VA response. Victim Advocates should make phone contact rather than in-person contact when possible.
  • Sex offender registrations will be by appointment only due to public lobby closures.
  • Investigators should take the following actions:
    • Limit in-person interviews, citizen contacts; Conduct phone interviews when possible;
    • Sanitize interview rooms before and after in-person interviews.

Support Services:

  • Suspending POST Academy;
  • Suspending all in-service and specialized trainings, including firearms training.

 

Video Visitations

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office has responded to the threat by suspending in-person and even onsite video visitation. Visits will now have to take place remotely, which requires “visitors” to fill out an online form and download an app (preferably on an Android device).

In South Carolina, the Governor has halted all jail visitations, but the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office reports that “because we conduct video visitations, we are able to proceed with those.”

Furthermore, the Charleston County Juvenile Detention Center has waived fees for outgoing phone calls from in-custody juveniles. “Given the heightened concerns during the coronavirus outbreak, juveniles should be provided with ease of access to communicate with family and loved ones,” Sheriff Al Cannon said.

In addition, the inmate screening process was modified to identify inmates who may be infected with the coronavirus, and a protocol has been established to quarantine inmates who exhibit possible symptoms of COVID-19.

Like many police and sheriffs’ departments, Charleston County has implemented Continuity of Operations practices to help ensure that essential work will continue despite losses in staffing due to COVID infections. Fortunately, the Sheriff’s Office can use deputies from assignments that have closed, such as courthouse security and school resource officers, to assist with answering report calls via telephone.

 

Working with Local Police and Public Health Agencies

The Volusia County, FL Sheriff’s Office is not responsible for jail operations; those are handled by a separate county department. The Sheriff’s Office, under the leadership of Sheriff Mike Chitwood, reports the following actions to protect its deputies and the community by working closely with local police and public health agencies in the county:

  • We are in daily contact with the Health Department, which is providing us with addresses to flag in our CAD system for people who are under observation/monitoring for COVID-19 and/or who have tested positive. We also are cross-referencing each of these addresses to see if a response by any department – Law Enforcement, Fire, or EMS -- has occurred in the last 90 days. If a response has occurred, we will notify the impacted departments with all of the call information.
  • We may have hotels, trailer parks, or multi-unit facilities that may be flagged by a single address. When units are dispatched to a place that fits these criteria, we will advise them to check the comments. We will do everything we can to make sure the responding units are warned of the CAD alert.
  • At our Communications Center, we’re asking screening questions on all medical calls. We’re also looking at adding an additional UV micro-organism elimination component to the HVAC system.
  • We’re directing deputies to use common sense when enforcing traffic violations.
  • All non-patrol personnel have uniforms ready and are prepared to fill in for any patrol vacancies in case any deputy has to be quarantined from a shift.

 

The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

 

PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.

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The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission has closed its statewide academy for 30 days