During times of extreme crisis, prioritization is key. It helps keep resources available to those who need them. Of course, if there simply aren’t enough resources, critical decisions must be made to avoid pandemonium. That’s certainly become the case in places like New York, where hospitals are running low on medical supplies like personal protection equipment (masks, gloves). Because COVID-19 is new to our immune systems, we have no herd immunity that protects us from infection. There’s no vaccine, and no real treatment other than keeping the body alive while it develops antibodies. Now, a number of police departments are ignoring some low-level crimes in an effort to protect their force from infection as well.
The Denver Post reports that Denver and Aurora cops are avoiding infection by not sending a unit to take a report if the crime in question is a misdemeanor. In fact, the departments have an online form citizens can fill out if they need to report smaller crimes like vandalism. Obviously not sending a cop to fill out paperwork is not only a way to keep the police from exposing themselves to the coronavirus, but it’s also a smart way to conserve resources at a time when they may be needed in the near future.
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Other police departments around the country are responding in similar ways, although it’s also to stem the tide of the virus in jails and prisons. In one Ohio county, they’re not jailing anyone for misdemeanors. Portland also isn’t responding to low-level criminal activity. Another county in Colorado has temporarily shut down services like gun permitting and fingerprinting.
Many cops were already used to wearing some protective gear while on duty. Not bulletproof vests, but things like latex gloves. Sadly the meth epidemic, plus fentanyl and other issues, made personal protection gear normally associated with healthcare workers a necessity while on duty. What’s less common are the N95 face masks cops are often wearing now if they report to any call where someone is suspected of having respiratory issues. This isn’t just to reduce their exposure, but also to protect anyone they come in contact with. And that is because the U.S. has lagged badly in testing, so there’s no guarantee the cops on duty aren’t infected.
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It’s impossible to see the future and know how much bigger the coronavirus pandemic will be. Experts of all kinds have painted pictures that range from bad to terrifying. One thing that is almost certain is that more police departments will have to weigh the risk of response to low-level misdemeanors and the risk of infection. Until the U.S. gets its act together and begins properly testing, tracking and isolating everyone this will simply be the new normal.
Doctors don’t even know yet if our resistance to the coronavirus will be seasonal, last years, or fade sooner than most antibodies. We just don’t know enough about COVID-19 to know when things will return to normal. Until then, expect police departments to increasingly allocate resources around infection prevention and containment.