Delaware police agencies continue to protect and serve

Dover Police Patrolman Dale Starke gets into his vehicle in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Officers don the black and yellow uniforms for large-scale events that bring the community together.

They’re seen at NASCAR races, Firefly, traditional parades and Dover Days.

Oh, if that were only the case now.

These days, Dover Police wear the special duty garb so it can be washed and sanitized following a daily work shift.

The traditional gray and blue cotton uniforms require dry cleaning and two to three days to return. Daily cleaning is a must as coronavirus spreads globally.

While the switch is deemed temporary, there’s no telling how long the crisis will last.

“The idea to switch was raised in a meeting and approved almost immediately,” Dover Police Department spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

Across Delaware, many law enforcement agencies are embracing additional measures to keep people healthy.

In Camden, “All officers have been provided sanitizing agents with which to clean/decon their vehicles and will do so after anyone has to be transported,” Police Chief Marcus Whitney said.

Ocean View PD has enough supplies to last two to three months, Chief Kenneth McLaughlin said. Personal protection equipment includes masks, gloves, face shields, clear safety glasses, hand sanitizer, and hospital-grade disinfectant.

“Officers are required to clean and disinfect their assigned equipment and workspace daily,” he said.

Among other precautions, Delmar Chief Ivan Barkley advises that officers who are sick must stay home.

“All officers have been advised to minimize contact with the public whenever possible. In situations where contact must be made, officers follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and maintain at least a six-foot distance between themselves and the person in contact.

“Officers clean and disinfect hands and equipment throughout the shift. (They) utilize proper PPE when responding to a location that (they) are aware may have a possible exposure. (Officers) are to notify supervisors immediately if (they) believe (they’ve) come in contact with an infected person.”

Other police departments contacted Tuesday identified the same general cleanliness measures in action to enhance health and safety. Some reported officers wearing gloves, others with limited lobby access and a push to report lesser issues online or via the telephone.

No trends yet

Responding to criminal activity has not been altered, departments said. There have been no immediate trends since COVID-19, according to several police spokesmen.

“We have not noticed any specific crime trends yet, but we continue to analyze the daily complaint load and adjust responses as necessary,” Smyrna Cpl. Brian Donner said.

Some offered the option of meeting in the department’s parking lot to enhance social distancing. Public outreach events are postponed or canceled until further notice.

According to Cpl. Donner, “Our officers are taking every precaution they can within reason to keep themselves healthy. They’re being encouraged to use gloves whenever contacting the public and we have a batch of masks coming in soon that they can also use.”

Dover Police on patrol on Loockerman and State streets in Dover on Tuesday

Daily patrol shifts remain mostly unaffected in staffing and coverage area, local agencies said. As everywhere else, police are extra focused on following health expert recommendations to remain safe.

“Our officers are being instructed to just be cautious while interacting with anyone possibly showing symptoms and to of course always wash their hands or wear rubber gloves,” said Seaford Master Cpl. Eric Chambers, whose agency canceled its Youth Police Academy scheduled for April.

Delaware State Police spokeswoman Master Cpl. Melissa Jaffe said, “The men and women of the Delaware State Police will continue to fulfill our mission during this challenging time, which is to enhance the quality of life for all Delaware citizens and visitors, by providing professional, competent and compassionate law enforcement services, through appropriate responses and enforcement.

Trooper operations remain adjustable depending on current conditions.

“As with any unique event we are constantly re-evaluating how best to deploy resources and to continue uninterrupted service to those we serve,” Cpl. Jaffe said.

While all troops are open, Cpl. Jaffe said “we have implemented temporary changes to operations at some of our facilities, to ensure we are compliant with social distancing guidelines.”

In Dover, “The general feeling officers is that they’re concerned,” Cpl. Hoffman said. “They have families to go home to and I don’t think anyone could have planned for how fast this would spread.”

The shared experience of all is not lost on Georgetown Police, Detective Joey Melvin said.

“This is a time for our community to support one another by working together to ensure we limit the spread of the potentially lethal coronavirus,” he said.

Enforcement, charges

Via a Facebook post, Cheswold Chief Christopher Workman briefed residents on current procedures and approach to protecting and serving citizens.

“We understand that there are issues important to you and your community regarding the normal, everyday events but the spread of the virus and the complications it provides for small departments such as ours can have a devastating impact,” he said.

“This includes full uninterrupted initial responses to emergency calls for service to include criminal investigations, motor vehicle crashes and other public safety related issues.”

Camden’s Chief Whitney said the department gets direction from Attorney General Kathy Jennings, “regarding enforcement and any appropriate charges.

“With that said, I do not anticipate any problems in Camden as the community has come together with one common goal, to beat this virus.”

Ocean View Chief McLaughlin said, “Persons who violate the emergency orders declared by Gov. Carney may face criminal prosecution. Minor violations will result in a one-time warning.

“Ignoring the warning will most likely result in an arrest.”

There’s still substantial free movement allowed, and Dover officers are especially focused on dispersing large groups of people and check that non-essential businesses are closed. Recently, one resistant small business was quickly convinced after an attorney general order was presented.

Harrington Chief Norm Barlow said “I haven’t seen anything like this in my career. This is a stressful time (for police) but we will do everything we can to educate the public on what the governor’s orders are.

“I hope everyone understands this is for the best interest of them and comply to avoid any other consequences. The unique challenges for us is that we have never had to deal with the fact we can’t interact with public as we know policing.

“It is a big adjustment when you have to protect yourself when you have also do your job, it is hard to distance yourself when a crime may not allow that to happen.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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