Butler County officers, deputies add gear and caution while continuing to serve

First responders - police, fire and EMS workers - are taking precautions to keep themselves safe in coronavirus precautions while still responding to calls when people need them, officials said.

Some law enforcement have modified how calls are taken and limited interaction with people in close quarters to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But closing down law enforcement departments is not an option, and making sure officers and personnel stay healthy and on the the job is vital.

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“Unless the call is a domestic violence or assault or something, we are instructing dispatchers and officers to meet the … citizens outside on the front porch and we can keep a good distance away,” said Middletown police Chief David Birk.

The officers all have hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes for their cruisers and uniforms.

“They have been instructed to disinfect their uniform and everything on a regular basis,” Birk said.

That will include spraying and wiping down uniforms after any close contact. If officers are in a situation where they have to make at arrest, they have surgical masks and gloves.

“Then disinfect themselves immediately and also the cruiser again,” Birk said. “This is the way it is, we wipe everything down and go back out there,” the chief said.

The precautions are unprecedented in a job that is inherently dangerous.

“I have been doing this 25 years, I have never seen anything like this, even with the swine flu or West Nile,” Birk said. “We have never taken any precautions like we are with this.”

The police lobby and Middletown Municipal Court remain open.

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“People need us, we can’t close the police department … we are still responding to calls and we are screening those calls, so if it is a non-essential call and it is a civil issue, we will explain that to the caller,” Birk said.

Butler County Sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers at the county jail often deal with people who have health issues, but more precautions are being taken to keep them safe and healthy and still responding where needed.

“We are not being alarmist, we are trying to be prepared,” said Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer.

Deputies deal with potentially dangerous situations as part of their work, but Dwyer said, “this virus is a different animal.”

Dwyer said he has seen similar steps taken following Sept. 11, 2001 and other outbreaks, but his time things are ramped up.

“After 9/11, there was a commonality,” Dwyer said. “There was an enemy. … With this it is a different animal completely, there is no commonality.

“The virus can attack people all over and the things being enacted by the health departments are creating a ripple effect of people not being happy. After 9/11, people were supportive of a response now with the response to shut down places there is the unknown and the economic impact.”

Many precautions are underway in the office, jail and for deputies still on the street. All have masks that can been worn on calls during which someone may present symptoms or if they respond with the health department to assist in checks of those undergoing testing measures.

The masks are fitted with a hood over the head.

Will a deputy show up at the door in a mask for an ordinary call? Dwyer said that is not likely.

“If they get to the door and someone is symptomatic, they might go back the the cruiser and get their gear before contact,” Dwyer said.

Both Hamilton and Monroe say officers are also provided with gloves and masks to wear in situations where needed, but officers are not wearing them while responding to all calls.

“Our ability to provide for the safety and security of the community is directly dependant on having adequate front line staffing. As I said, keeping our officers safe and healthy is a top priority. Our officers are resilient and resolute in carrying out our mission of providing exceptional police service for a better Hamilton,” said Hamilton Chief Bucheit.

“We will continue to actively monitor the situation and make necessary modifications to our operations as needed to ensure continued exceptional and uninterrupted police service for our community.

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