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 The Rochester Police Department is taking precautions to protect against the coronavirus/COVID-19. Officers have their temperatures checked and wear masks.

The Rochester Police Department is taking precautions to protect against the coronavirus/COVID-19. Officers have their temperatures checked and wear masks.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Police make adjustments to maintain public safety during a pandemic

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 9, 2020


ROCHESTER — Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm said a lot has changed at the Rochester Police Department during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“There’s just a lot of things to think about to try to keep our people safe and out of harm’s way when it comes to the virus,” he said.

Now when officers and other department employees begin — and end — their shifts, they undergo a body temperature check from a touchless digital thermal scanner.

“A long time before this was getting much popularity anywhere else, we had been temperature checking and checking for symptoms for our employees — both when they come on shift and when they leave,” Schettenhelm said. “(We also) wanted to keep cross-contamination among other officers to a minimum, so we tried to have our shifts change in a way that we wouldn’t have everybody in a locker room at once.”

As a police officer, contact with the public is part of the job, so all officers were given N95 masks. Their patrol cars are also frequently disinfected with spray disinfectant and electric foggers to eliminate contaminants within the vehicle.

“At the end of the day, we’ve had to arrest people during this time, and obviously, that’s a close contact situation, so that’s where our preparation comes into effect and the sanitation afterwards.”

While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order was in place, the department’s call volume dropped.

“We would get calls periodically about kids playing ball on the basketball court, or a certain group that wasn’t properly socially distancing, and back before the landscaping (was allowed to begin again), we did have some issues with tree cutting crews and landscaping crews that were out,” Schettenhelm said.

In lieu of issuing citations, officers gave verbal warnings and tried to help community members correctly interpret the latest rules.

“Enforcement comes in a lot of different ways, and we tried to enforce (the stay-at-home order) by gaining some voluntary compliance from folks, and that worked well for us,” Schettenhelm said. “Our goal is to remind people what they are doing and the harm that could come with that.”

With fewer people out and about, officers were also able to support the community in a variety of other ways.

Whether it was answering questions via phone, checking in on homebound seniors, assisting residents with notary requests, or leading one of the many birthday car parades for local children, Schettenhelm said officers stayed busy.

“It was nice to be able to do something for those kids that were stuck at home. We did sometimes four or five a day. It was something that we enjoyed doing for the kids,” he said.

Officers also helped distribute hand sanitizer and face masks, found a wheelchair for someone in need, and helped provide Easter dinner to families and seniors in need.

“Our school officers have still been involved helping with the free and reduced lunch program through the school, so they have been out in the community getting those meals delivered and working at stations where folks come in to get them, so we’ve been doing a lot of outreach in that way,” he added.

Throughout the pandemic, the department has remained a source of information for community members. Schettenhelm said that every time the executive orders changed, the phones at the department started ringing with people asking questions about how the orders related to them.

Since the lockdown was lifted June 1, the department’s call volume has steadily increased and officers have gone back into their more traditional roles.

“We’re noticing that our calls are coming back up, we’re noticing more traffic, so things are returning to a more normal state,” Schettenhelm said. “What the new normal is going to be, we have yet to discover.”