While descriptors like “unprecedented” and “once-in-a-lifetime” are common while describing the current conditions as the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic turns the world upside down, many public safety departments have long been preparing for circumstances like this one.
“Adapting to unknown situations seamlessly is what police officers are trained and conditioned to do best,” Capt. Bill Wyffles of the Eden Prairie Police Department wrote in an email to Eden Prairie News.
“This is pretty foreign territory for most of us, but the practices are similar,” echoed Sheriff Jason Kamerud of the Carver County Sheriff’s Office.
Eden Prairie’s police department holds daily situation updates, has changed officers’ schedules to minimize contact and has adopted social distancing in situations that can’t be conducted virtually or over the phone, Wyffles said. At Carver County, officers already operated on opposite-schedule 12-hour shifts, so there have been few changes to the schedule, Kamerud said.
“(Officers are) not fearful but they’re cautious, which they were before this,” he added. “Overall they’re doing quite well.”
With businesses closed and many residents working from home, Eden Prairie’s streets have been “unusually quiet,” Wyffles reported, and the department has seen a “dramatic reduction” in vehicle crashes and traffic violations. In contrast to the Carver County Sheriff’s Office and many other jurisdictions in the state, Eden Prairie police have received fewer domestic-related calls, he added.
It hasn’t been a universal decrease in activity, though. The stores that are still open have called in more thefts and shoplifting in recent weeks, Wyffles said, and there’s been an increase of applications for permits to buy guns in the city.
As always, officers patrol businesses that are closed − there are just more of them now, Wyffles said. The department has also been sending more officers to the few essential businesses that remain open “to help people feel protected and safe,” he wrote.
Most people and businesses have complied with the governor’s stay-at-home order, and when the sheriff’s office receives the few calls related to social distancing violations, officers’ approach is education first.
“Our approach is, we are trying to get voluntary compliance. We put all of our effort into educating and informing about what the stay-at-home order means,” Kamerud said.
There was one nonessential business in Chanhassen that the sheriff’s office visited a few times because its owners kept opening for business, Kamerud said, but even then he understands the motivations behind the violation.
“I get it, they have mortgages and lease payments for their property,” he said.
For businesses who knowingly and repeatedly violate the order, Kamerud suggested that instead of criminal charges, most cases could be handled with some penalties regarding the businesses’ licenses. For individual people, the risk of incurring a misdemeanor charge for violating the stay-at-home order comes only after officers have informed them of the violation and they continue to violate the order, both Wyffles and Kamerud said.
“The key is to make sure that people have been warned and they have an understanding and if they have that, it can be argued that any subsequent violation is a willful violation,” Kamerud explained.