COVID-19 has put a severe strain on law enforcement resources
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Governments around the world and their various departments are spending a lot of time, energy, and money to suppress COVID-19. Law enforcement is an important part of that, and law enforcement agencies across the country are focused on their roles and responsibilities.
While police in Los Angeles and New York City have seen crime rates fall since outbreaks emerged in their cities, law enforcement officers in crime-ridden cities like Chicago and Detroit are facing severe trials. Chicago is still facing high levels of gun violence despite statewide measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. With both the virus and violence to worry about, Chicago PD is spread thin.
Chicago's healthcare resources, hospitals, and medical staff are already straining under COVID-19 pressures. If gun violence continues, it could be too much for the city to handle. A rise in domestic violence and abuse during this pandemic are also causes of concern for the police.
Police in many cities are quickly pivoting to become public health officers as well as law enforcement agents. People not following social distancing or stay-at-home orders are among the chief reasons for the spread of the virus.
At times, harsh economic conditions force people to venture out. Police officers are trying to determine each case. They try to disperse groups that are ignoring social distancing rules and let individuals off with warnings instead of doling out punishments.
Three months ago, departments were reeling under cash and resource crunches. Now they are reeling under workforce shortages. The pandemic has impacted officers across the country along with many other frontline workers. Many have tested positive for COVID-19, and some have died as a result of the virus.
The strain on rural police departments is even worse. They may have fared better than their urban counterparts so far, but their lack of health equipment and policing resources is a massive risk factor. Even a single case of the virus could put whole departments out of commission. As the pandemic seeps into rural communities, officer safety is of the utmost priority.
In many cases, rural police officers double up as firefighters and EMTs. Some of these officers are struggling to find protective gear and disinfectants, facing a severe shortage of masks. They have had to rely on donations, homemade sanitizers, and handmade masks. In their case, crime rates have plummeted, but there has been a rise in domestic disturbances or violence.
The pandemic has fundamentally changed policing in both urban and rural areas. Most officers are now choosing to forego minor infractions, traffic stops, and misdemeanor crimes to limit their interactions with the public.
Rural deputies and many urban police departments have started resolving service calls over the phone instead of showing up at people's houses. Some rural departments and their neighboring agencies are helping each other manage these service calls due to the shortage of manpower.
Along with protecting officers from unnecessary public contact, some will also act to prevent crowding in jails.
Many jails lack in-house medical care, which creates a high risk for vulnerable populations. Alternative measures to incarcerating people in prison may help. Detractors feel that this could lead to criminals thinking they can get away with anything. Though not all departments are fully operational and have had to pare down operations, officers vow that they are not turning a blind eye to crime.
For police departments like Baltimore, the COVID-19 budget shortfall created an additional strain of pay cuts, salary freeze, furloughs, and layoffs. As officers continue to work in dangerous conditions, these potential cuts will increase their risks and severely demoralize the force, which may be too much for the strained department to handle amid a pandemic.
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