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With public largely staying home, police aim to manage risk

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Apr 02, 2020
Source: File photo

Belfast — Law enfocement officers cannot always keep the recommended 6 feet of distance between themselves and the public, but their agencies have implemented extra precautions in response to COVID-19 in an effort to protect them from the virus.

Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton, Belfast Police Chief Gerald Lincoln and Searport Police Chief Todd Boisvert all said people seem to be following Gov. Mills' order to stay home, except for essential trips to buy food and other necessary supplies, to visit a doctor or take care of a loved one, or to travel to an essential job. According to Trafton, "the roads are deserted, and that's a good thing." Lincoln also noted that pedestrian traffic was down.

Belfast officers and sheriff's deputies are working mostly either from home or from their cruisers, while Searsport officers are spending most of their time at the station, according to Boisvert, handling as many calls as possible by phone. All three law enforcement heads said their men are staying busy with patrols, property checks and responding to calls from the public.

Trafton said he deeply regretted that people who call his office are not receiving an in-person response from an officer, but that in the interest of public health, deputies had been told to respond by phone whenever they could.

Interviewed Friday, Boisvert said he had observed a reduction in both vehicle and pedestrian traffic since the governor's stay-at-home order went into effect at midnight Thursday.

While interaction with the public is way down, Trafton said his officers are experiencing greater stress as a result of the public health crisis. "We're worried about the public, we're worried about our families, we're worried about ourselves," he said.

Lincoln also noted that, while officers have been instructed to conduct interviews in an open area when possible, "we don't always have the luxury of that."

"If you know you're going to have to subdue someone," Lincoln continued, officers can don a mask and gloves, but in some situations, there may not be time to do that. Boisvert said his officers are under orders to wear a mask and gloves when entering someone's home. He said his department had enough personal protective equipment for now, but he was "a little concerned" about running out as the epidemic continues.

Trafton said his department had some personal protective equipment, which had been distributed to deputies, but they have been told to use it sparingly, because there is not enough and additional equipment that has been ordered has yet to arrive.

Police officers and deputies are limiting traffic stops to public safety violations, again to limit the amount of contact between officers and the public.

Trafton said his deputies are not out looking for violators of the governor's stay-at-home order, and have not received any reports of people congregating, but are ready to respond to such reports if necessary. If such a case arises, he said, the responding officers would contact him, Chief Deputy Jason Trundy or Lt. Matthew Curtis, and they would decide how to handle the situation.

"We're not looking for people's papers," he said.

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