With the number of positive COVID-19 tests in Maricopa County rising from nine to 689 in 10 days, law endorcement agencies are using citations as alternative to arrests in some cases.
Last week, law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders around the West Valley started exercising extra precautions, with some departments changing the way they approach the public.
“In order to minimize risk to both officers and the public, we encourage our officers to use discretion to minimize any unnecessary contact, but there are circumstances where officers may have to take action,” said Tiffany Ngalula, a Glendale Police spokeswoman, citing direction from Police Chief Chris Briggs.
She said that, “when possible,” Glendale officers have been advised to keep a 6-foot distance when having contact with people exhibiting signs of a respiratory illness, such as coughing, shortness of breath or fever.
And, “when applicable,” rather than making arrests, Glendale officers are issuing citations “to limit the amount of persons in our detention facility and close contact during transports,” according to Ngalula.
This is similar to other law enforcement agencies’ changes around the Valley.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said March 26 her department is arresting fewer nonviolent offenders. The same day, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department updated its COVID-19 frequently asked questions.
“Many local law enforcement leaders, including Sheriff (Paul) Penzone, have empowered their patrol divisions to use discretion in circumstances when the offense is a nonviolent misdemeanor offense. A citation or long-form report is an option as we try to minimize exposure for our deputies while effectively reducing the jail population.”
The FAQ section also notes, “MCSO dispatch center has started to ask additional questions to provide more information to responding deputies to identify if additional personal protection equipment will be needed. When appropriate, community contact or reports will be taken by phone.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department deputies respond to calls from Litchfield Park, Waddell and other unincorporated areas.
Ngalula noted Glendale police officers are taking extra precautions: “While transporting a possible infectious subject, the officer should be wearing nitrile gloves, eye protection and a respiratory mask.”
Glendale officers have been directed to disinfect vehicles after transports.
Ngalula said officers also have been given the following directions from Briggs:
“When possible, make contact with the public outside, for example, asking someone to step out of the house and maintain a 6-foot distance. This will not always be possible/practical and PPE recommendations should be used.
“Officers should explain our safety measures (use of Personal Protective Equipment and maintaining distance) to the public when possible, as they are as much for the protection of the community as for our officers.”
Ngalula added the police station lobby has been closed temporarily.
“We have encouraged online reporting for police reports and for the public to file criminal police reports over the phone with an officer when possible,” she said.