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Chief: Southfield police see fall in calls for service, rise in medical calls during pandemic

By: Kayla Dimick, Tiffany Esshaki | Southfield Sun | Published June 9, 2020

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SOUTHFIELD — Since the Safer at Home order was announced, Chief Elvin Barren said, the Southfield Police Department has been rolling with the ever-present changes the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.

Barren said that shortly after the stay-at-home order went into effect, call volumes decreased significantly.

“As an example, we typically — and this is a typical number — average around 140 calls per service per day. During the peak of this pandemic, the call volume dropped, averaging between 70 or 90 calls on any given day,” Barren said.

However, when it came to medical runs, Barren said his team saw an increase.

“There was so much of an increase, we had to use private ambulance companies for those medical runs, most of which were related to respiratory issues,” he said.

As the weather warms, though, and things slowly return to normal, Barren said, call numbers are also returning back to pre-pandemic volumes.

Barren said the Police Department has changed their policies and procedures amid the pandemic.

“When we receive calls for service, the dispatchers are required to screen the caller and ask them a series of questions related to recent travel, and if anyone has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have respiratory issues,” Barren said. “That way, when our members respond to the particular location, we will have knowledge on the conditions of the person we’re there to assist.”

Officials also limited access into the dispatch center in order to limit potential exposure to the virus, Barren said, and the department has mandated that employees clean their work areas and vehicles throughout the day. Masks, gloves and disinfectant spray have all been provided to employees, he said.

“We acquired some touchless thermometers, and prior to each shift, we test all of our members for a fever before they are allowed to proceed to their assignment,” Barren said. “We moved our briefings, too. Instead of doing it in a briefing room, we conducted them in the parking garage, where we could spread out amongst ourselves and be proactive in our own social distancing.”

Barren added that 13 officers with the Southfield Police Department contracted COVID-19, and all have since recovered and returned to work.

“When the virus passed, they came back to work without unnecessary delay. They met the guidelines and were off the appropriate amount of time and made sure that the virus had passed, and then came back to work to protect the community,” he said.

When it comes to enforcing the state’s policies, officials with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said it has been less about citations and more about education.

Most of the time, according to Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, violations of the order aren’t the result of rebellion, but rather a misunderstanding of the latest version. The governor’s order changed several times in the past few months, and Bouchard said directives can be tough to interpret, even for deputies.

“So many people have turned off the news because they’re just overwhelmed with it, and they may not have heard the latest iteration of (the order),” he explained. “To the extent that they can tune in and find out the latest or visit the governor’s website or the attorney general’s website and read the frequently asked questions posted there, we hope they can. But we can’t expect everyone to be able to study the fine print each time.”

Unless people are blatantly violating the governor’s recent order, Bouchard said officers have simply just asked people to stop what they’re doing.

“The vast majority of times, if there is a violation, the people don’t know that they’re in violation of the order. The other times, people call and there’s no violation. Like, they see people together on their front lawn. Well, you don’t have to social distance from your own family,” Bouchard said.  “I’ve given very clear orders to our deputies that they’re not going to be seen as a fearful presence in the community. I don’t want people to worry every time they see a car drive up.”

Many agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, have avoided writing on-the-spot citations. In the event someone is knowingly violating the emergency order, Bouchard said, his deputies write reports to be submitted to the health department for potential action.

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