Ferndale, Berkley police adjust to coronavirus pandemic

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published March 23, 2020

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FERNDALE/BERKLEY — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth much uncertainty with what’s happening in the country, but local police authorities want the public to know they’ll always have someone to call when they’re in need.

As Michigan sees increases in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and all types of businesses shutting down to avoid spreading the disease, local police have been trying to adjust their policing in this current climate.

Ferndale Police Sgt. Baron Brown said the department has had to make some changes, such as not being able to do many face-to-face interactions with residents, which he felt is the best way to go about their jobs.

An example Brown gave was that recently they received a call for a hit-and-run crash. Normally, they would go out, inspect the car and talk to the owner face to face. Now they’re offering more options to how they would handle that situation.

“Right now, we would get the caller’s info, give them a call, have the officer establish an avenue of communication that includes email, where that person would email us a picture of the damage, take a picture of where they would park, just do all the stuff that we would normally do,” he said. “We would also go by and take a look at the car if the vehicle’s there. We would just cut out that face-to-face part of it … just to keep both parties as healthy as possible.”

Fendale police also noted that they’ve stopped doing court-ordered preliminary breath tests in their lobby and fingerprinting for residents.

Berkley Public Safety Department Detective Lt. Andrew Hadfield said their department has made some changes as well. Starting last week, they’ve begun asking residents to report “basic incidents” online at www.berkleypublicsafety.org.

“Those can be things that are not serious or active ongoing, but are more informational, sharing suspicious circumstances, a barking dog,” he said. “Instead of having an officer having to go out to the house to deal with something that’s not actively going on, somebody can just make that report online to us. And from there, we can follow up with them as needed.”

As far as the number of officers and scout cars patrolling the streets, Brown said that hasn’t changed and he doesn’t see it changing unless the department starts getting sick, for which they have a contingency plan in place.

For now, Brown said, it’s “business as usual” for Ferndale.

“If we arrest somebody, we’re obviously doing some screening questions, and if they give us certain answers, then we are contacting the jail and making arrangements with them on how we should handle it,” he said. “But if people need to go to jail, that’s one of the parts of our job. People need to go to jail, they’re still going to jail, and some violations of law, by law we have to arrest. So that part of it hasn’t changed, and that’s why it’s so important that everybody take these warnings (seriously) and practice their social distancing and handwashing and not touching their face, because the healthier we all stay, the easier it is for us to get through this.”

When it comes to how Berkley will handle arrests and holding offenders in jail, Hadfield said certain cases involving felonies or domestic violence would still see people held until they can get in front of a judge, as the court will be open for those functions.

“Other incidents of crimes that someone could be arrested for are being dealt with — either an arrest or just a citation with an appearance later in court,” he said. “(We’re) trying to minimize anybody’s contact as best as possible, while still maintaining the public safety and security of everyone around.”

As businesses and bars have closed in downtown Berkley, Hadfield said they were less busy on St. Patrick’s Day. He also noticed that, with people not commuting as much to work and staying home, they were also seeing less traffic. 

With COVID-19 continuing forward for the unforeseen future, Hadfield said they have a challenge of making sure they’re conscious and aware of not infecting or affecting other people in the community, but still being able to respond to incidents. 

“We want to make sure that, obviously, we’re limiting our contact in getting anyone here sick,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re able to provide the services that don’t stop. You see businesses and restaurants and things that are closed down; we’re still going to be here, and so we need to make sure that we’re as healthy as possible to provide that service, whether it’s police or fire. So there’s a change of just making sure that we’re extra cautious.”

Brown has seen things slowed down a bit since the COVID-19 pandemic started getting more serious in Michigan. Police haven’t had to go to any bars and handle intoxicated people, but that doesn’t mean, he said, they’re going to let up on patrolling through the streets.

“The reality is people aren’t getting along at home, thefts are still occuring, all the same stuff is happening, but there is definitely an area where we’re having to spend less attention or less time policing,” he said. “For most of our residents, I think they take comfort in looking out the window, as they’re vacuuming or doing the dishes, and seeing a scout car roll past their house. Whether it has anything to do with COVID-19 or not, I think most people know that there’s somebody to call if they get in trouble, and it doesn't matter what that trouble is, medical to violence. So we’re making sure that our officers are out there, being seen and providing that comfort level to most of our residents that are probably pretty stressed and anxious, just like we are, as to what the next day holds.”