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 Farmington Hills Police Service Aide Holly Burke sanitizes a patrol vehicle June 4. Patrol vehicles are sanitized at the beginning of each police shift with a high-powered sprayer.

Farmington Hills Police Service Aide Holly Burke sanitizes a patrol vehicle June 4. Patrol vehicles are sanitized at the beginning of each police shift with a high-powered sprayer.

Photo by Jonathan Shead


Community policing during COVID-19

Departments record fewer 911 calls and promote education, not citations, for executive orders

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published June 9, 2020

FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — The last two months were a bit quieter than normal for the greater Farmington area’s police and public safety departments.

Phone lines were less busy.

Traffic stops declined, with less travelers on the road.

Police buildings remained, for the most part, closed to the public as the departments worked to adjust operations with a worldwide pandemic in mind.

“Police departments throughout Michigan, especially the metro Detroit area, experienced a significant decline in crimes and calls for service. The pandemic definitely played a big role in that,” Farmington Public Safety Director Frank Demers said. “I think with people staying inside and abiding by the governor’s executive orders, we benefited from that, as well, with fewer crimes.”

Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King echoed his statements.

Decreases in crime rates and calls for service weren’t seen across the board, however, but rather with certain crimes. In Farmington, Demers’ department saw decreases in operating-while-intoxicated-related offenses, down 65% compared to the same time last year; in traffic crashes, down 50%; in burglaries, down from five in 2019 to two this year; and most notably in larceny in buildings, down from nine last year to one this year “due to offices and businesses being closed” he said.

Calls for sick or injured people stayed consistent, and larceny from automobiles jumped from two last year to four through May 2020.

In Farmington Hills, King said, “crime stayed relatively stable, (though) it was the type of crimes that changed.”

“We had an increase in private property car accidents. It wasn’t for the time they occurred. It was that people were catching up and reporting what had happened when activities were normal — pre-stay-at-home order,” he said. “That still affects our crime rates.”

Both King’s and Demers’ departments saw decreases in domestic violence and family trouble reports, too.

“Family troubles dipped slightly. When you were thinking people staying at home might cause more conflict, but what we saw was a lot of the community coming together and complying and acting lawfully,” King said.

While each department did receive its fair share of calls related to what people believed were executive order violations — 12 total for Farmington and about three per shift in Farmington Hills — both departments chose to take an educational, rather than an enforcement, approach.

“Early on, we took a stance. … Our focus was always safety. We would respond with the focus of advising, educating and assisting our community members to voluntarily comply with whatever the situation was. Many times, we didn’t even see an executive order violation,” King said. “Action was always reserved for very serious situations.”

King said his department only wrote one report pertaining to a business violating part of the executive order, which was forwarded to the Oakland County’s Prosecutor’s Office but was denied. Demers said his department didn’t have to write any citations because people were “very understanding and quick to comply.”

Although crimes and calls for service may have decreased through April and May for both departments, there was plenty to keep them busy, whether officers and administrative staff were sanitizing the buildings and patrol vehicles or helping the community celebrate birthdays and graduations via vehicle parades.

Due to a litany of additional health safety practices — mandatory temperature checks, utilizing personal protection equipment, sanitization practices, social distancing and more — passed down from the Oakland County Health Department, both King and Demers were happy to report zero positive COVID-19 cases within their departments.

With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rescinding her Safer at Home Executive order and allowing bars, restaurants and retailers to reopen at limited capacities, both departments are now tasked with preparing for the public to return to a bit of normalcy that has been absent since March.

Demers said he expects to see crime rates increase back to averages seen prior to the shutdown now that “people are free to move about a little more than they were before.” King thinks crime rates will remain relatively low, but he stated that, as he saw with specific types of crimes decreasing, specific types of crime may also see an increase.

One thing that’s certainly not changing for either department anytime soon is their adherence to select safety measures. Some, Demers said, may even stick around well beyond the initial COVID-19 safety precautions.

“I can tell you for a fact our decontamination measures, elevated PPE protocols and inventories are going to maintain for at least the foreseeable future,” King said.

“We’re going to basically stay the status quo with all our safety precautions and PPE,” Demers said. “Our officers will continue to use their masks when making any contact with the public.”

Demers added that the department’s new online reporting system — accessible at https://farmgov.com/City-Services/Public-Safety/Online-Reporting.aspx, which can be used to report certain offenses and minor crimes — will be sticking around.