PELL CITY -- Local police departments are taking steps to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
With many businesses shutting their doors and people staying home, law enforcement officials are having to make changes to better serve the public while also protecting officers from exposure.
Pell City police Chief Paul Irwin said while his department is making changes, the public remains its top priority.
“We are trying to make ourselves available to the public,” Irwin said.
He said the police station is closed to the public, and the department is trying to handle calls over the phone if it can. For calls that can’t be handled over the phone, officers are trying to talk to people outside and at a proper social distance, if possible.
Irwin said the department has received fewer theft calls than usual recently but has dealt with more domestic disputes.
“People are having a hard time financially,” he said. He said several residents are out of work due to shutdowns, and it is causing stress.
Irwin said this even affects officers who had off-hours jobs at Premiere Cinemas, all of whom lost those jobs when the entertainment center shut its doors due to the pandemic.
Irwin also said officers are trying to make sure elderly residents are taken care of during the crisis. He said officers are even willing to do shopping if someone needs them to.
“If anyone in Pell City needs us, we’re here,” he said. “We want to make sure no one is at home starving.”
Irwin said he has done his part to help, saying he has been on patrol more than he has been in his office.
“I’ve been riding on calls with people,” he said. “I have been checking on places that are open.”
Lincoln police Public Relations Officer Amanda Crow said her department is taking similar steps, but she added there are still situations that can't be handled with social distance.
“If it's an emergency, of course, we have to go,” she said. “We’ve had to adapt.”
Crow said officers are using what limited protective gear they have, such as latex gloves, but the department is looking into getting Personal Protective Gear (PPE). She added officers still have families to go home to every day, and don't want to spread coronavirus anymore than the people they serve.
Crow said many residents understand that and are working with the department.
“For the most part, the public has been understanding,” she said.
St. Clair sheriff
St. Clair County Sheriff Billy Murray said his office faces a unique challenge because it is more multifaceted.
He said deputies are being provided with supplies to clean their vehicles and equipment when they are done with their shift. Dispatchers have also been provided with a checklist in order to make sure deputies are informed in case of a call that may lead to possible exposure.
One factor Murray said his office is having to deal with is intake at both county jails. The need to continue that intake has meant the staff has taken precautions.
“We check temperatures at intake,” Murray said. He said anyone with a fever or any other symptoms is taken to a medical area on site to be examined. Then, he/she can be transported to a medical facility, if needed.
He also said his agency is unique as all offices remain fully open to the public, which requires special precautions to be in place.
Murray said despite all the extra measures, morale within the agency remains high.
“Everybody’s putting the best face on it as possible,” Murray said. “We are ready to do whatever we gotta do to survive it.”
Talladega County sheriff
Talladega County Chief Deputy Josh Tubbs said deputies are doing what they can to keep themselves and the public safe during the pandemic.
“Obviously, we’re still answering emergency calls, but we’re trying to keep our distance when we can, too,” he said. “For reports of things like harassment and phone harassment or things like that, we are encouraging people to call in.”
The Sheriff’s Office also provides Project LifeSaver assistance, with wrist bands used to help locate people suffering from dementia who are prone to wander off.
“The batteries in the bracelet need to be changed from time to time,” Tubbs said. “We’re encouraging caregivers to get those to us to change the battery, while still limiting contact with older people who might be more vulnerable.”
Talladega city police
Talladega police are also taking what precautions they can.
Chief Jason Busby has put up signs inside the station encouraging social distancing, and signs on the doors at City Hall say, “In an effort to protect officers and the public from exposure, all non-emergency police reports will be taken over the phone until further notice. Call central dispatch at 256-362-4162, and an officer will contact you to make your report. There will be no change in our response to emergency calls. If you have an emergency, please call 911."
Sylacauga police Chief Kelley Johnson said while the force will be mindful of the directive from all levels of government calling for no more than 25 people in a public gathering, he hopes people will exhibit integrity and abide by those mandates.
“We’re not going to go into people’s houses and make sure they’re 6 feet apart,” he said. “People are going to do the right thing, we hope.
“If we get a report of some type of house party or something, then we’ll shut it down. If we’re called to a scene and we have to act, we’ll act, but as far as going and patrolling proactively searching for that, we don’t have the manpower to do that kind of stuff.”
Other than a few incidents, Johnson said Sylacauga has remained relatively crime-free during the pandemic.
“It’s not too bad,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of domestic violences, calls where we’ve made arrests, but the others we’ve been arresting on warrants, we’ve allowed them to OR (own-recognizance), which means sign their own bond. We’ll give them a court date and, hopefully, they’ll do the right thing and come to court.”
Johnson added the department is actively monitoring activity throughout the city’s subdivisions, including in the Taylor Estates and Valley View area, where some vehicle break-ins occurred last weekend.
“Our officers are stepping up in all the subdivisions and communities around because it’s not just going to happen in those communities. Especially as we get later on into this, that element becomes more and more bored,” he said. “We’re going to try to stay ahead of it and keep up patrols in all our communities.”
Childersburg police Chief Richard McClelland said his department is taking proper precautions while doing its daily routine.
“What we’re doing is just trying to be vigilant and following what everybody expects,” he said. “We have gloves and masks in the vehicles and all, (and) hand sanitizer. We try to limit our contact where we can.
“We’re still checking businesses and answering our calls. We’re pretty much where we have to do what we have to do, just trying to do our due diligence to protect ourselves and the public, too.”
As far as crime in the municipality, McClelland said all has been well.
“It’s been pretty good,” he said. “Everybody’s behaving, and that’s a good thing … The longer this goes on, I suspect there will be more burglaries, assaults and harassment, things like that. As of right now, we’re pretty good. We’re still actively patrolling, so we’re doing our part.”
He added his department won’t actively be going into private gatherings to count heads, but officers will respond if complaints are made regarding individuals remaining compliant with the guidelines in place.
“You would hope that people would want to do the right thing,” McClelland said. “I try to look at it as everybody’s in this together, so we might as well do what we can.”
Staff writers Chris Norwood and Shane Dunaway contributed to this story.