If you call police to report a non-life threatening incident in Beaver County, you may find they call you back instead of showing up at your home or place of business. Police departments throughout Beaver County have begun adjusting their procedures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.
Many departments have announced they will be handling most non-emergency calls over the phone, although all departments will continue to send officers in person if there is an immediate danger.
In a March 17 open letter to his community, Ambridge Interim Police Chief Mark Romutis wrote that his department is changing the way it handles some incidents for the safety of officers and the public.
“Calls that require just a police report, whether there is a follow-up investigation or not, will be handled by telephone,” Romutis wrote.
“Complainants, when calling County 9-1-1, will be directed to request a return call from the Ambridge Police to file such a report. These reports will include any report that is not life-threatening in nature or not an emergency. If an officer returns a call and determines that the complainant requires a physical response, they will do so. All police reports will be sent by email or fax.”
Beaver Borough Police Department, which also serves Vanport and Industry, detailed similar procedures in a March 16 statement. Aside from non-emergency calls being handled over the phone, Sgt. Kenneth McCoy told BeaverCountian.com his department will provide full service, including regular patrols.
The department’s procedures regarding non-emergency calls and personal protective equipment were updated after speaking to other local and national law enforcement agencies.
Center Township Police Chief Barry Kramer asked residents of his community to assist police in limiting their potential exposure to the virus, which could lead to further spread.
“The CDC has not yet mandated that police officers should wear protective masks,” Kramer wrote. “If you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms please advise the dispatcher during your call requesting service.”
Romutis said police are still ready to provide an in-person response upon a caller’s request. “If there’s any suggestion of violence, any suggestion of harm to someone, we’re going to respond,” he told BeaverCountian.com.
Examples of cases where officers can file a report over the phone include petty thefts, neighbor disputes and certain cases of harassment, lost articles and animal complaints.
David Piuri, President of the Fraternal Order of Police Beaver Valley Lodge 4 and chief of the Monaca Police Department, declined to comment on updated police procedures.
Protecting The Protectors
Police officers are consistently at risk of exposure to pathogens while in the line of duty. Romutis said he remembers several police officers contracting swine flu during the 2009 pandemic.
So far, officers in Ambridge, Beaver Borough and Center Township have not reported coming into contact with anyone displaying symptoms of coronavirus. As of the afternoon of March 18, Beaver County had two confirmed cases.
Some officers in the county have expressed concern to BeaverCountian.com about shortages or a complete lack of protective gear.
The Centers for Disease Control has published personal protective equipment guidelines for law enforcement, recommending that personnel have access to disposable examination gloves, single-use coveralls, respirators that filter particulate matter and eye protection.
Ambridge Police Department is equipped with routine surgical masks, which are not recommended, as well as N-95 particulate respirator masks which are. The latter were provided to the department by the county. The department also has access to rubber gloves and goggles and has advised officers to periodically disinfectant work stations and their vehicles.
Officers will exercise their own discretion whether or not to wear personal protective gear on calls, Romutis said.
Beaver Borough officers also have access to personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves. The department has instructed officers to disinfect vehicle interiors during each shift and wear protective gloves while making any physical arrest or responding to a medical emergency. Officers will wear masks when entering an area where they suspect someone is sick, said McCoy.
Kramer said Center Township has a limited supply of masks and gloves, although much of this equipment has not yet been made available. He has put in a request to Beaver County Emergency Services for more.
“If that’s being recommended, who am I to say we shouldn’t have that?” Kramer said.
The shortage of gear isn’t limited to Center Township, with officers throughout Beaver County describing similar situations.
“We have them, hopefully we don’t run out, but everybody’s short everywhere,” McCoy said of protective masks.
But police officers take an oath to protect and serve, and Romutus said officers will continue to perform their duties.
“We would just hope that the public would be aware that we’re still going to do our job,” he said.
“But if people could limit their exposure, we’d appreciate that, certainly. Because if we have to, we’re going to go into someone’s house and handle a situation.”