Hillsdale County judges are mon­i­toring the roster within the court system for any potential releases, according to County Jail Com­mander Lt. Jason Stiverson. Julia Mullins | Col­legian

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.”