Craig, Moffat County law enforcement adjusts on the fly to pandemic to keep community safe
Capt. Bill Leonard of the Craig Police Department does want his officers thinking about the coronavirus.
“I just hope they aren’t thinking about it all the time,” Leonard said.
That’s the Catch-22, or the rock and the hard place, or any other cliche you want to use, of being a police officer in the time of the coronavirus, Leonard said.
You still have to police, and sometimes those duties can’t be done outside of six feet, and another times they’re dangerous for reasons other than a virus. Even a traffic stop can be sketchy. Still, they do need to take more precautions than ever, even when they already undergo annual training on how to handle gross things such as bodily fluids.
“We provide sanitary training on a regular basis,” Leonard said. “But it’s never been this critical.”
Leonard raved about Craig’s local businesses and residents who have helped the department stay clean. Businesses have held back supplies or found extras so officers have enough, and seniors made masks that match their navy blue uniforms.
Thanks to them, officers also have the N95 masks and tables full of disinfectants, sanitizers and homemade treats to keep their spirits up. Officers, for instance, now carry little bottles of hand sanitizer in their pockets.
“It’s so hard to get that stuff through the national suppliers,” Leonard said. “But we live in a really good community. They have kept us supplied.”
Officers now prefer to complete a call on the phone instead of in person, Leonard said, and they keep a distance when they can.
“That in itself is kind of hard,” Leonard said. “Citizens do respect our distance, but they need to know they can come up and talk to us.”
Officers also can’t always respect the distance, and sometimes they can’t wear the masks, or they choose not to wear them.
“When you talk on the radio, it gets muffled when you have a mask on,” Leonard said, “and honestly when I do my walkthroughs of businesses, I won’t wear a mask unless they request it. It’s not perfect, but we don’t live in a perfect world right now.”
Sheriff KC Hume said the virus hasn’t changed their obligation to keep the public safe.
“But much like with any other situation, we have to rapidly and effectively adapt,” Hume said. “Sometimes we do take precautions, but it’s situationally dependent.”
It’s been a team effort to take those precautions, Hume said, as dispatch will help triage higher-risk situations and advise the deputies to wear protective equipment.
“It’s another piece of the decision-making process,” Hume said, “but I don’t know that it complicates that process.”
Crime does appear to be down, as calls were lower for March, and Leonard expects the same for April. There’s less trouble to get into when people stay at home, at least in most cases, even if officers feel more tension during house calls.
“This is an outdoor community,” Leonard said. “I feel it too. I can’t go camping with the wife. When you start limiting those things, plus the additional stress and financial issues and the kids out of school, we definitely see calls related to that.”
Leonard admitted that the virus weighs on the minds of his officers, maybe as much as it does everyone else. But he’s also seeing a tiny bit of good come out of it. At a convenience store, an officer saw a clerk deny a lady’s debit card, and so he paid for her groceries. Every morning, downtown, on his walks, Leonard sees a senior picking up trash.
“It’s great when you see that,” Leonard said. “He probably shouldn’t even be out, but he said it helps him. I’m seeing that from all over our community.”
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Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume saw it as a win-win situation.