Crime isn’t on lockdown, despite the coronavirus precautions that are keeping many people confined to their homes.
That means that state and local police departments are still patrolling, still interacting with suspects and the victims of crime, still dealing with the public every day.
“We may handle some calls differently to practice social distancing but we need the public reassured that there will not be any reduction in services,” Chief Bernard G. Dugan of the Annville Township Police Department said in an email Sunday evening.
For instance, he said, police officers “may handle minor calls by phone,” and when responding in-person to a call, officers may ask the citizens with whom they are dealing to step outside, rather than enter their homes.
“We have limited access to our township officers but the police lobby remains open,” Dugan said.
“Police will continue to make arrests as we normally do,” he added. There won’t be a free for all on criminal activity.”
Cornwall Police Chief Bruce Harris said the police station is locked and they “are not allowing any unauthorized persons entry” to the building.
Staffing levels remain the same, Harris said. He noted that one officer is on medical leave “but that is not associated with COVID-19.”
Additionally, he said, officers have been supplied with hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and masks that they can use as needed. Non-emergency calls are being handled by phone or email whenever possible.
“To the extent possible, arrests will be handled by summons and individuals will only be taken into custody when absolutely necessary,” he added.
Still, Harris said, “officers will respond to emergency and life-threatening situations, as well as incidents where a physical response is required.”
State police commissioner Colonel Robert Evanchick issued a statement on Sunday noting that state police and Liquor Control Board officers will help enforce Wolf’s order to close nonessential businesses. Enforcement began at 8 a.m. Monday.
“The priority of the Pennsylvania State Police is protecting lives and maintaining order in the commonwealth,” he said.
That means private businesses, organizations and other noncompliant entities “face possible criminal penalties” including fines and jail time if they do not comply.
“We believe most Pennsylvanians want to act responsibly and do their part to help slow the spread of this deadly virus,” Evanchick said. “Troopers and liquor control officers will make every effort to achieve voluntary compliance by educating business owners and using discretion when appropriate.
“But our message is clear: COVID-19 is a serious health and public safety risk that requires an extraordinary response from law enforcement and the public. I urge everyone to stay home, stay calm, and stay safe.”
The state departments of Health and Agriculture, as well as local officials, are also assisting with enforcement. People are asked to report noncompliant businesses by contacting their local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number.
“We’re all in this together,” said Trooper David Beohm, public information officer for state police Troop L in Reading, which covers Lebanon County.
“Troopers aren’t going to be lining up eager to write citations at 8:01 a.m.,” Beohm said. “It’s more about education and bringing people into voluntary compliance.”
But, he added, “with that said, this is serious, and people are expected to comply.
Anyone with questions about what is or isn’t a life-sustaining business can email the state Department of Community and Economic Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“But this is not the time to look for ‘loopholes,'” Beohm said. “The goal is to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
For the state police, he said, the impact of COVID-19 on operations “has been minimal.” As of Friday, he said, no state police personnel had tested positive for the virus.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and have the plans to adjust operations and shift resources if necessary,” he said.
Dugan said departments are trying to protect their officers “as much as possible.”
“We hope to keep all officers healthy,” he said, “but Lebanon County police departments have a mutual aid agreement to help any agency who suffers a COVID-19 related personnel loss.
“We are committed to provide police services to Annville and Lebanon County.”
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