With 43 confirmed COVID-19 cases and three deaths in Hillsdale County as of April 6, the Hillsdale City Police and Hillsdale County Sheriff Department are taking strict precautions with their officers and the public to slow the spread of the virus. Both departments risk losing the ability to police as effectively if one of their officers tests positive for the virus.
“We could potentially lose a third of our department,” Hillsdale Chief of Police Scott Hephner said. “If one of our officers gets symptomatic, every officer that has been in contact has to be put on self-quarantine.”
With 13 full-time officers, the city police are taking serious precautions to prevent the spread to the department, Hephner said.
“We’re not out and seeking to arrest people on warrants unless they’re a danger to the public,” he said. “We’re trying to limit contact, but if there is potential for someone to get hurt, we’re going and handling it.”
Every officer has personal protective equipment and disinfectants, and their equipment will be decontaminated if they make physical contact with a suspect, according to Hephner.
The Hillsdale County Sheriff Department requires all employees to have their temperature taken daily before they can enter the building. If the measurement exceeds normal body temperature, they are denied entry, according to Hillsdale County Undersheriff Carl Albright.
“We’re a small agency and can’t afford to have it spread,” he said. “We don’t have people to back up to.”
If called to an incident, deputies are trying to conduct interviews outside, six feet away from whomever they are talking to. They go through a series of health questions with a person if they have to be brought to the sheriff’s office.
On March 29, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020 – 29, issuing guidelines for state prisons regarding COVID-19, including a strong encouragement to issue an early release to many inmates who do not pose a public safety risk.
The Hillsdale County Jail has reduced the prison population from 72 to 44 inmates as of April 1. Most visitations have been banned and regular temperature-taking and sanitation are in effect, according to County Jail Commander Lt. Jason Stiverson.
“We are constantly monitoring the roster with the court system,” he said. “I know the judges are constantly monitoring it as well, for any potential releases.”
Albright said no violent criminals have been released, and the releases do not concern him.
“This is not just something passed for COVID-19,” he said. “Any times the inmates that are here, that are model citizens, are released early, they are not violent criminals; they may have written bad checks or have stolen.”
Any person that commits a sexual assault or violent crime will still be brought to the prison and precautions will be taken for their health and fellow inmates, according to Albright.
Both the city police and sheriff’s office reported seeing a decrease in crime recently, with the exception of domestic incidents.
“What we’re seeing is more domestic-type situations, like disputes and arguments within households,” Hephner said. “Families are spending a lot more time together and some don’t deal with that appropriately.”
Law enforcement officers across Hillsdale County are preparing for the COVID-19 spread, but are urging residents to follow the stay-at-home order and sanitation guidelines.
“This is serious and something we should not take lightly,” Albright said. “Listen to the people in the know.”
Hephner said he has noticed a concerning amount of residents not following the executive order and requests that people start obeying.
“People need to start following the governor’s executive order,” he said. “If we’re really going to slow this down, people have to stay home and away from other people.”