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A letter to the American public: Public safety will shine during the COVID-19 pandemic

It takes a special person to risk his or her life to keep others safe, but that’s exactly what public safety personnel do all the time


A police officer wears a mask as he speaks to a man at the check point for a coronavirus drive-through test facility, Monday, March 16, 2020, in San Antonio. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness.

AP Photo/Eric Gay

The COVID-19 pandemic will reveal the best and worst of mankind. On the one hand, we will see Americans sharing what they have with others in need, as well as frequenting local businesses as much as they reasonably can. On the other hand, we will see hoarding at the expense of others and extreme paranoia. On a larger political scale, there will be much finger-pointing, which will only exacerbate an already polarized nation.

But there is one group that will shine during this crisis and it will be public safety. You will see the best humans have to offer through the preparedness, professionalism, courage and commitment of our police officers, correctional officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, dispatchers, nurses and doctors to the health and welfare of the communities they serve. They will don their gear while taking preventive measures and then go out and serve as well and safely as they can.

They will patrol our streets to help stop crime or respond in ambulances to treat and transport us during medical emergencies. They will be up at all hours of the night and in any weather Mother Nature sends us.

If the trajectory of this COVID-19 nightmare continues as expected, they will seek strategies on how to best serve even if their forces are decimated by the coronavirus. Each day or night they will report for a tour of duty, leaving behind their families and loved ones, confident their brothers and sisters in red and blue will do just as they are doing.

It is good to see that strong measures are being taken in our country to attack this unprecedented health crisis. These efforts – which demonstrate true teamwork – will make a difference and help mitigate this challenge we are ALL facing. By summer, we can hope that this will be a bad memory with limited casualties.

Ideally, we will take away a lot of lessons learned on how to better prepare for the next crisis through calculated and bold planning measures, stockpiling of critical supplies and building vital infrastructure to support community needs.

And when everyone goes back to a healthy routine that hopefully involves a deeper appreciation of each other despite our differences, your public safety forces will be doing what they always do: serving to help keep you safe. Until then, you will still see them inside police cruisers, fire trucks and ambulances. You will see them catching bad guys, fighting fires, preventing crime and saving lives. And they will continue to do it despite being exposed to dangerous situations.

It takes a special person to risk his or her life to keep others safe, but that’s exactly what public safety personnel do 24/7, whether it is responding to COVID-19, international or domestic terrorism, natural disasters, wildland fires or violent predators. This national crisis will only highlight what they do so well: serve with distinction.

Chief Tom Wetzel is a 32-year veteran police officer and currently leading a northeast Ohio suburban police department. A former SWAT commander, he is an adjunct professor in community policing, a certified law enforcement executive and a graduate of the Police Executive Leadership College. An instructor for Northcoast Polytechnic Institute, Chief Wetzel is an internationally published author for numerous police trade publications and a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He co-developed a school/community policing children’s Internet and stranger danger safety program called e-Copp, an educational children’s online protection program.