Even law enforcement is having to change the way they operate as the spread of coronavirus continues across the U.S., and right here in North Dakota.
There are some big changes at some of the larger agencies in western North Dakota, that assures us officers will be available 24/7.
Limiting access to the police departments themselves is happening across the state.
At the Bismarck Police Department, officers are reporting to work as usual and are available as they always are, but as an added precaution, they have suspended any department tours, ride alongs and presentations to larger groups.
Most agencies are taking a similar approach.
“Some of the more proactive ‘go out and meet with the public’, you know, and talk about issues and stuff like that, we just can’t do right now,” explained Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben.
The Stark County Sheriff’s Office has locked its doors to walk-in traffic to protect deputies from the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
“Again, we’re talking about unnecessary contact. If the public has a need, first and foremost, to see a law enforcement officer, they have the ability to do that. If there is an emergency, we still want them to contact 911. Officers will respond as they always have,” shared Lt. Eldon Mehrer with the Stark County Sheriff Department.
Lt. Mehrer says they already have two deputies currently in quarantine after they got back from vacations.
Sheriff Leben expressed, “This is North Dakota. You know, we’re used to handshakes and hugs and back slaps. But that’s all changing. We’re telling our staff, ‘Do everything you can to avoid direct contact.'”
He says he’s now telling his deputies to see if there’s any way they can handle a conflict over the phone before heading to a scene.
“That’s so foreign to what we’ve preached,” Sheriff Leben said, shaking his head.
Likewise, Dickinson Police Department Chief Dustin Dassinger says dispatchers will be asking more questions before sending officers out. The Department’s doors are also locked.
“If it’s a situation or a violation that requires someone to be arrested and taken to jail, that’s still going to happen,” Lt. Mehrer said.
But, due to the outbreak, low-level non-violent crimes are being handled differently.
“If we can gather the information, do our paperwork, send the report up…we would issue a warrant and then arrest them at a later date,” Lt. Mehrer explained.
He likely speaks for most North Dakota law enforcement agencies when he says their priorities have not shifted.
“I’d like to just reassure the public that when it comes to the overall safety of the community, that is still a priority with the Sheriff’s Office,” he added.
If you do need to reach out to law enforcement, many departments ask that you call ahead. They can try to help you over the phone, or schedule a meeting if need be.