The novel coronavirus is hitting the United States particularly hard. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the U.S. may possibly become the next epicenter of the viral outbreak. The greater Seattle area was the focus of the initial outbreak in our country, but the rate at which the virus has spread in New York has caused the state to become home to the highest volume of cases.
The implications of the spread of the virus are numerous; citizens being asked (or ordered) to stay in their homes, and this dramatic shift in daily behavior is having effects on wide-ranging elements of everyday life. One such element is the ability of police departments to perform their duties.
The Seattle Police Department has announced that the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention will no longer allow bookings for most misdemeanor charges due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19. Some have panicked at the announcement and predicting a "corona crime spree" will result. However, there is no evidence at this time to suggest that any such "crime spree" has begun.
Assistant Chief Steve Hirjak emailed officers Tuesday afternoon with the news that most misdemeanor bookings will no longer be accepted. The exceptions include Assault 4, DUI, restraining order/no contact violations, stalking, and communication with a minor. Crimes that would not be booked include shoplifting, property damage under $750, trespassing, and vehicle prowling.
The Bellevue Police have also announced changes that they will be making in response to the outbreak. Those changes focus on screening processes for individuals making emergency calls in order to ensure the safety of law enforcement officers. According to Major Andrew Popochock with the Bellevue PD, "There is one specific change that people will notice when they call 911 and that is the question of if they're experiencing flu-like symptoms. The specific reason we're asking that is to make sure that our officers and firefighters coming to your call are wearing proper equipment. It has no relevance on whether or not we're coming."
Several other local agencies, including the Kirkland Police Department and the King County Sheriff's Office, have made similar announcements, informing the public that their dispatchers are set to ask certain questions during a call. Major Popochock emphasized that if callers are ill, first responders will be dispatched. The only deviation in the case with a caller who self-reports a sickness will be that officers will arrive wearing protective gear. Even this step will be dependent upon the circumstances; in some emergent situations, officers will be sent without any gear.
Protective gear for law enforcement can consist of masks, gloves, and eyewear. Bellevue and Kirkland Police have confirmed that their officers will have the option to wear a Tyvek suit when responding to calls where they feel it's necessary. Bellevue officers may also ask some individuals to step outside when officers arrive in response to calls, and avoid going inside their homes if at all possible.