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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Policing the pandemic: how police officers continue to serve and protect, while protecting themselves

Apr 29, 2020 10:40AM ● By Cassie Goff

CHPD officers must sanitize their equipment and patrol car before going on shift. (Photo courtesy of Cottonwood Heights)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

On March 16, the city of Cottonwood Heights declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, daily operations for city workers have changed significantly, especially for the employees of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department (CHPD).

“Calls for service are down 30 to 35% overall,” said CHPD Chief Robby Russo. “Noticeably, the radio has been silent.”

Even though almost all crime has been decreasing, including accidents and injuries, domestic violence (and family fights) has seen a spike in calls. “There have been calls from homes you wouldn’t anticipate that call for service coming from,” Russo said.

In addition, the CHPD has received calls about gatherings and residents not conforming to the 6-foot distancing recommendation.

“People are self-enforcing and we are happy about that,” Russo said. “There have been lots of calls concerned about mass gatherings in parks or at homes. We respond to each and every one of those.”

As of publication, there have only been a few positive cases of COVID-19 in Unified Police Department and seven in the jail. CHPD has not reported any positive cases.

“It hasn’t become a problem yet, but it could,” Russo said.

In preparing for the future, emergency responders have to anticipate the possibility of officers contracting COVID-19. In preparation, the CHPD may move toward working longer shifts when needed. In addition, most police departments within the valley have agreed to share resources when needed.

If an officer tests positive, they will be quarantined in a hotel. This way, their families are protected. Salt Lake County will also be supporting childcare for officers when needed.

For the CHPD, the priority is protection. When first arriving on duty, all officers and staff members are required to have their temperatures recorded. Throughout the rest of the shift, constant sanitization is required for all surfaces and gear, including within the patrol cars. In addition, every officer has received gloves, masks, suits, disposable dust covers, protective covers, face shields and safety glasses to use when needed.

“The officers carry sanitizer in their cars and wear masks when coming into contact with the public,” said Assistant Emergency Manager Julie Sutch.

The CHPD is actively complying with reports from the Salt Lake County Task Force, which is a collaboration between healthcare officials, Unified Fire Authority and the Governor’s office. CHPD is also checking in daily with the Salt Lake Valley emergency responders and managers.