Mich. police not physically responding to some calls to avoid COVID-19

Departments statewide are encouraging citizens to use online reporting tools to limit social interaction and slow the spread of coronavirus

Gus Burns

LANSING, Mich. — In Lansing and a growing number of communities, if someone steals from your garage during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, police probably won’t respond in person.

Limiting public interaction, or social distancing, is a growing trend as police agencies across the state pivot to maintain public safety while protecting law enforcement and citizens from the potential spread of coronoavirus.

The Lansing Police Department is one of several departments statewide curbing its response to several types of non-violent crime in the city amid ongoing efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Lansing Police Department is one of several departments statewide curbing its response to several types of non-violent crime in the city amid ongoing efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo/TNS)

Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green in a March 12 “coronavirus exposure mitigation” memo said his officers, “until further notice,” won’t respond in person to reports of larceny; property destruction; retail fraud, if a suspect isn’t known or the value of the theft is under $1,000; attempted break-ins or break-ins at unoccupied buildings, including garages or vacant homes; ID theft when the victim isn’t financially harmed and reimbursed by their bank; harassing phone calls or emails; credit card theft if the charges arise outside Lansing and calls of lost property.

Reports for those crimes may instead be entered on the city’s website or via phone. Lansing isn’t alone.

Meridian Township issued a similar statement Friday, stating: “The Meridian Township Police Department will limit in-person responses to calls in certain situations” but “will continue to respond to all violent and in-progress crimes.”

While the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office didn’t announce plans to limit deputy response for certain crime reports, it is limiting public access to offices and other facilities.

“Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the Sheriff’s Office is asking the public to try and limit coming in for certain Sheriff’s Office services when possible,” the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement issued Monday. “All citizens are encouraged to visit the Sheriff’s Office website for the most up-to-date information on changes to services.”

The Oakland County Jail canceled on-site video visits with prisoners and is instead offering a remote, online video service that allows prisoners one free “remote visit per week."

“All on-site visits ... have been suspended – with the exception of an emergency and crime reporting,” Grosse Pointe Farms Police said in an announcement Monday. “Citizens will not be able to come into the station for fingerprints, purchase permits, visitation or any other services.”

In Montcalm County, 911 dispatchers are collecting more than immediately pertinent emergency information. They’re asking callers about possible symptoms of illness and notifying medics, firefighters or police if there is any chance the victim might be showing signs of coronavirus infection.

“In an effort to promote safety for everyone involved, a new line of questioning has been introduced to our call in-take process,” Montcalm County Central Dispatch posed to its Facebook page Monday. "Until further notice, we will be asking questions about the health and exposure risk of all of our 911 and business line callers where a responder could potentially have face to face contact with the public.

“We assure you that our added questioning is not going to slow down response times.”

Montcalm County Sheriff Mike Williams said his deputies, once notified of a possible health risk, are able to take further precautions to protect themselves, such as using gloves and keeping a safe distance from those at the scene, if possible.

“Like anyone with any communicable disease, we ask they disinfect their gear and their cars, anything they touch, and they wear gloves or other personal protection equipment,” he said.

Williams said interviews with suspects and witnesses, when possible, are being conducted off site. The agency is no longer conducting fingerprinting for CPL licenses, limits the office to “essential personnel," is restricting police transporting of arrested suspects to the booking area, halting work-release programs and ending weekend-only incarceration.

Williams, a law enforcement veteran of 24 years, said he recalls working through past pandemics, like the 2009 spread of the H1N1 virus, but said, “we’ve never seen anything like this.”

There is not across-the-board consistency regarding how agencies across the state are handling in-person contacts, nonviolent crime reporting or jail policies.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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