COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall: Law Enforcement and Emergency Services

Audio Recording via Montgomery County Today podcast

Law Enforcement and Emergency Services FAQ

Q: How are public safety procedures, dress, behavior, interactions and other operational aspects of your work different now than they were just a couple of months ago?

A: We’re still doing our jobs, protecting our communities every day. Officers may wear protective equipment to provide safety for residents and responders, to keep them all healthy. We’re using technology to our best advantage; citizens may report crimes online as well as by phone, among the many ways we create safe avenues for citizens to contact police officers. We also are encouraging officers to handle calls, but to limit exposures as much as possible.

Q: If I call 911, what should I expect? Is it safe to call EMS if I'm having an emergency?

A: Some 911 centers may ask a few more questions about risk factors. We’re still going to come; we’re still going to help. We may be wearing protective equipment and may ask patients to do so, so that everyone has an extra level of questions

Q: If I call 911, am I putting myself at risk by going to the hospital? If I call 911, will I have to wear a mask?

A: Hospitals are doing a great job eliminating risk, by enacting new procedures including eliminating visitors, increased cleaning and practicing good personal precautions. Fear of risk of COVID-19 should not prevent anyone from seeking care.

Q: As Virginia begins re-opening, we are receiving lots of questions about enforcement.  Which agencies have responsibility for enforcing guidance for social and physical distancing, crowd size and other individual behavior that affects COVID-19 risk?  What is the penalty for violating the guidelines?

A: Our communities have reacted appropriately and impressively, doing a fantastic job of policing themselves. Most people are taking appropriate precautions and cooperating well. Most often, we are simply emphasizing the governor’s instructions for keeping safe, and that’s all that’s necessary. From the law enforcement perspective, we’re really seeing people doing the right things and we’re thankful for that. It’s truly impressive how socially responsible our community has been, as citizens and as businesses.

Q: How would law enforcement handle it if someone asked for assistance with a person who refuses to maintain a safe distance? What are the options citizens may use for handling this type of behavior?

A: We have received those calls. We respond, we educate and citizens have been responsible and done the right thing. The executive orders and guidance has varying levels of emphasis. Some are guidelines, some are best practices or simply safe practices. Others are more stringent and could involve criminal penalties such as misdemeanors. Generally, we haven’t had to resort to enforcement in any situation. By and large, everybody has been very responsible.

Q: What measures have been taken at the Montgomery County Jail to insure the safety and health of not only the inmates but also the staff within the facility?

A: We have guidelines and recommendations for maintaining a safe environment for everyone, and for resolving concerns, so they don’t escalate.

Q: What is the role of volunteers in the response to COVID-19?  If someone is interested in volunteering to provide support, what should they do?

A:  Many of our fire and emergency medical services are completely volunteer, or a combination of volunteers and paid staff. We have many volunteers in the New River Valley. The number one thing the rest of us can do is to thank them for putting themselves in harm’s way, not just for COVID-19 but every day. Provide gratitude, recognition and support. Donate or deliver meals, sew masks. That support goes a long way. You can join the Medical Reserve Corps, or call the New River Valley Task Force hot line (540-267-8240).  Volunteers are a valuable resource for fire and EMS. Volunteers usually have a full time job and many have families. They volunteer on their time off. We have to think about the risk to our families. We take all the precautions we can to protect our volunteers, and rapid testing is available for those who may have had an exposure to COVID-19.

Q: What role have emergency services personnel played in the Public Health Task Force and in setting up the drive-thru testing sites?

A: Early this year, we saw COVID-19 coming. We quickly partnered with the Virginia Department of Health and others to set up the task force. We are blessed to have such a high level of cooperation here in the New River Valley. To set up testing, we built an enormous logistics machine. Those here today from law enforcement and emergency services; none of us are medical experts but we’re experts at providing resources. Early on we began to build our testing capability, and worked to shorten return time on testing, especially for first responders. There are so many pieces to this puzzle - all the regional partners, law enforcement, public works, transportation - there is an amazing level of cooperation through all the agencies and departments. This is a collaborative community effort you won’t find anywhere else, to work this smoothly.

Q: To what extent are first responders and law enforcement seeing and responding to issues for wellness or mental health, such as depression, distress and anger management?

A: Mental health is significant across the board, and especially in university settings. Through our local partnerships, we have created networks and mechanisms to provide services for people in crisis. If greater capacity is needed, we know where to go to get help. On school campuses we’re familiar with online training and classes, and this helps us provide services. There are lots of resources in the region to address problems quickly. This is a stressful time for our community, but the message is if you’re struggling, reach out. If you can’t find a counselor, contact law enforcement or emergency services. We can be conduits for assistance. Fear has driven some people away from attending counseling sessions, but here we have created very safe environments to get counseling. We’ll help, we’ll work tirelessly to help find resources. So if you’re in crisis, call us and we’ll help you find the appropriate services and resources to meet your needs.

Q: Can I travel to other parts of the state or out-of-state?

A: We used to say you’re safe at home, now we say we’re safer at home. But as we move into recovery, traffic will pick up, folks will begin to move around more. Hopefully, common sense will prevail. We want folks to keep in mind what they should be doing and remember everything we have all been doing to stall this thing. Viruses do not stop at state lines. Keep doing what we have been doing. We’re going to deal with it as it comes. But everybody has been doing a great job. Let’s keep doing it.

Q: Please provide tips for staying safe, especially with theft and fraud.

A: If a deal comes out of nowhere and seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t give personal information over the phone or online, including bank account information. Put your valuables out of sight and lock your vehicle. Call and report suspicious activity to police. What seems minor to you may be part of a larger issue. Call if you see something out of place. Please check social media, where we constantly update scam information as it comes out. It can and will happen.

Q: There has been reports of increases in reckless driving cases. What are the plans to enforce these laws? Please provide reminders for drivers. I have witnessed drivers running stop signs and being very aggressive.

A: Traffic patrols are seeing light volumes. That’s a testament to the fact that folks are adhering to guidelines. To those that wish to take advantage, remember we are here, and have been here the entire time. We urge everyone to use good sense, common sense. Regarding rumors about reckless driving, we see no local data to indicate that.

Q: What steps are being implemented to keep officers and our first responders safe?

A: Jails have reduced or eliminated visitation and, in general, limited travel in and out of the jails as much as possible. We have been able to quickly test jail inmates and staff, when there is the potential for cases or exposures. Staff are aggressively cleaning the facilities. Jails are critical places to protect. Just like hospitals, they help keep us all safe. Everyone works together and the cooperation is paying off.

Q: What about crime rates, since the stay at home order has been enacted?

A: Some places are seeing decreases in crime rates overall, but there have been some increases in property crimes and crimes of opportunity; larcenies from vehicles, fraud and scams. We publish a lot of information on fraud and scams, especially on our social media sites. To prevent property crimes, we’ve encouraged offices to increase patrols to businesses and in neighborhoods. When the stay at home order was new, there was a decline in calls, followed by a spike in calls for services (not necessarily crimes). In some places burglaries have increased, which is unusual in times when more people are staying home. Fire and emergency medical calls are down, and we’ve had relatively few incidents on Interstate 81 since traffic volumes are down there, too. Statewide, there are fewer travelers on our interstates. Most people seem to be taking the governor’s advice to stay home, and stay healthy and safe and that’s a good thing. But remember, we urge people to call as always if they have an emergency. Don’t hesitate to call if you have a need.

Q: Anything else?

A:  As our community response to this pandemic evolves, we must be mindful that the potential for risk has not abated. We all must be diligent in all that we do, for an unknown time to some. The good news is that our community really has stepped up and behaved with social responsibility. When you keep yourself healthy, you also do it for your neighbor, and especially for those with vulnerable conditions and higher risks of an exposure or a bad outcome.