VINTON, Va. (WFXR) – The Vinton Police Department is adjusting the way they work in the age of COVID-19.
“It’s definitely a worrisome time right now,” says Chief Tom Foster.
Local law enforcement agencies across the country are making major policy changes in preparation for the continued spread of coronavirus.
Since policing is a public service that involves direct interaction with members of the public, several departments are seeing a rapid rise of confirmed cases among their workforce.
On April 14, the Lynchburg Police Department announced that an officer had tested positive for coronavirus. It is the first COVID-19 case in the department.
Chief Foster says his department was fortunate enough to get ahead of the outbreak.
“In February, when we started hearing about the cases in California, Oregon, and Washington state, we started looking at what our needs might be,” says Chief Foster.
Several topics included if the department could work with a reduced staff, how service calls could be managed, and what essential personal protective equipment (PPE) were available.
Through extensive research, the department was able to implement new safety procedures.
Starting three weeks ago, every police officer who enters their department’s building is required to get their temperature taken. In-person briefings between officers from different shifts are also conducted electronically in order to promote social distancing.
New changes were also enacted for police officers responding to emergency calls within the community.
Instead of going into residential homes to assess the situation, officers are encouraged to meet residents outside, as a way to protect both the officer’s and resident’s health.
Although calls within the community have increased, including domestic complaints and larceny, Chief Foster says it’s something he expects during these troubling times.
Along with new procedures, the department has been in constant communication with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Roanoke County Health Department. Protocols have also been strategically placed in case an officer were to show signs of coronavirus.
“The system is there and everything is coming together well,” says Chief Foster.
At this time, no police officer within the Vinton Police Department has tested positive for COVID-19.
Ever since confirmed cases started to increase throughout the Commonwealth, the Vinton community has been showing their appreciation of local first responders through donations of food and essential supplies.
“We had one donation of a gallon of hand sanitizer, which was fantastic,” says Chief Foster, “because initially, we couldn’t get it.”
In the meantime, the department plans to continue their bi-weekly debriefings with local health agencies, as well as how to analyze and mitigate patterns of potential exposures.
Chief Foster says his biggest priority is making sure officers stay healthy in order to respond and address all emergency calls within the Vinton community.
“We’re here. We’re going to respond and we’re going to take care of situations. We hope to get through this [COVID-19 pandemic] in a quick time span, but in the meantime, we hope these new protocols make things easier for everyone,” says Chief Foster.
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