ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – The coronavirus is changing the way police across the country respond to some 911 calls and St. Louis County is no exception.
Police Chief Jon Belmar said his department is taking steps to protect officers.
Social distancing, he said, is key. Even on matters as simple as roll call, officers are instructed to remain six feet or more apart.
Other measures are being taken to maintain safety amid the coronavirus. Equipment and other items are being thoroughly cleaned to ensure the virus doesn’t spread.
Belmar said in the short term, officers have the equipment they need to do their jobs, but added the supply is quickly being exhausted.
“We’re going to burn through masks, we’re going to burn through gloves, the eyewear, different things like that. Clorox wipes. Whatever else it may be,” he said.
The chief said he’s hopeful the community will continue to donate needed items – googles and masks, in particular.
He said the department tries to maintain a minimum of a two-week supply.
Social distancing mandates, along with personal protective equipment, can be attributed to a low infection rate within the department, Belmar said. As of Thursday, there has been only one confirmed case.
“As all of us know, there may have been others, depending on lack of testing. And there are other things such as that. But one so far. We’ve quarantined a few officers for different reasons. – but staffing levels are good, knowing that could change – doing what they can to preserve staffing,” Belmar said.
The approach to calls has changed in recent weeks, in the name of safety.
“We are calling people more often than we ever have in our history,” he said, noting that some matters can be handled by phone. “If we can call you on the phone and have that police officer talk to you about whatever your issue is, a stolen item or whatever it may be, I think we’re all probably better off.”
That measure can prevent the possibility of the virus spreading, and allow officers to handle more serious calls.
“Ultimately, we want to make sure that officers are going to be available for that times that there is that acute need. And we’re going to be there for that,” Belmar said.
Crime has remained flat in recent weeks in St. Louis County. With the stay-at-home order in effect, there are fewer burglaries.
However, Belmar noted that police are still responding to cases involving unsecured vehicles. He reminds the public to keep valuables out of sight and doors locked. In the short term, those kinds of non-violent crimes have seen an uptick, along with burglaries inside vacant buildings.
As the metro area adapts to changing times, Belmar is preparing for a big change – his retirement at the end of the month. He has served the St. Louis County Police Department for 34 years, the last six as chief.
“I think it might have felt different if it were normal times. But I think with all the struggles we’re going through, that frankly, mentally, and emotionally, I’ve kind of put that on the backseat,” he said.
Belmar added that the public should rest assured that despite the uncertainty and challenges, service will continue.
“Our firefighters, our police officers, our paramedics, our nurses, our doctors. They’re going to be there for you,” he said. “I want to assure people, we’re going to get through this.”