Law enforcement agencies pivot operations to protect officers, residents

Anthony Friebel
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos Police Department Officer Anthony Friebel uses hand sanitizer outside Draeger’s Market.Friebel visited the downtown Los Altos store and others Friday morning as part of a new weekly check to ensure businesses are following coronavirus safety guidelines like maintaining 6 feet between customers and prohibiting personal shopping bags.

Three weeks under the shelter-in-place order, local residents are adapting to protect themselves, their families and their friends from contracting the coronavirus.

Law enforcement agencies are doing the same to protect themselves and the people they serve. 

As he enacts directives from officials at the city, county, state and federal level, Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea is considering how to restructure his department’s shift schedule so that it can remain fully staffed if an officer – or his or her entire shift team – is infected with COVID-19.

A majority of the officers currently in specialized positions have been transferred to patrol, a change that adds two teams to the patrol schedule. Patrol officers will continue to work 12-hour shifts, but now will work seven days in a row and be off for the subsequent seven. The new schedule allows additional days outside the police station to complete administrative work while still being available.

“This schedule provides us adequate patrol coverage and also allows officers what is considered a sufficient incubation period following (their) work days,” Galea said in an email to the Town Crier. “We are also making changes to minimize the sharing of vehicles, equipment, computers and work spaces. With the exception of taking more reports over the phone and our front lobby being closed, I do not think the community will notice any changes.”

Mountain View Police public information officer Katie Nelson confirmed that her department will implement an alternating shift schedule Monday.

A different kind of ‘bad guy’

No employee from the Los Altos Police Department or the Mountain View Police Department has tested positive for COVID-19.

“While we have fortunately not seen that as of yet, we are doing all we can to keep both our officers, and those they may come into contact with, healthy,” Nelson said. “We are also implementing training at home to ensure we stay updated on state requirements to ensure we are serving our city to the best of our ability.”

But 11 of the 1,400 sworn officers and administrative staff of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office – responsible for incorporated and unincorporated land including the town of Los Altos Hills – have contracted the virus. Nine deputies – eight assigned to the jails and one deputy assigned to patrol – and two staff members working in the jail are in quarantine, recovering safely away from their colleagues. One deputy had to be hospitalized but was in stable condition as of Thursday (April 2).

Sgt. Michael Low said shifts remain the same – morning, swing and midnight rotations –but like the Los Altos Police Department, many of the Sheriff’s Office officers assigned to special projects have been pulled away to patrol or fill other essential needs. Others were asked to remain home on administrative leave in an effort to reduce the number of people coming in and out of the department.

Pulling deputies from special projects means there are more to back one another up on calls. The precaution is amplified by COVID-19 response teams, one that cares for deputies at the Santa Clara County Main Jail and another that tends to deputies protecting people on the streets.

The teams, comprised of people with extensive professional or medical experience, relieve deputies who may be exposed to the coronavirus and take them to undisclosed decontamination sites the Sheriff’s Office maintains countywide. The deputies are assessed to determine whether they need time off.

“A lot of us have families, we have kids, so we need to be able to still do our jobs and do them safely,” Low said.

The department also requires all employees to get their temperatures taken before and after their shifts.

What won’t change

The three local law enforcement representatives emphasized that when a resident calls 911, officers will still be around to help.

“Someone will always answer the phone, and we are still patrolling the residential and commercial areas of Los Altos,” Galea said.

In Mountain View, coverage remains the same.

“We will be out (patrolling) 24/7,” Nelson said. “We are just flexing how long one team stays on the streets before another comes in to replace them.”

Low said county deputies are still out serving the public but are not being as stringent about minor offenses.

“We won’t be stopping a bunch of cars or stopping a bunch of people to limit exposure,” he said. “The more cars we pull over, the more people we (come into) contact with. It’s safe for everyone if we limit that. However, that isn’t to say that we won’t take people to jail and enforce the law when we need to.”

The agencies agree about violations of the shelter-in-place order: They will try to offer a helping hand by offering information about the order before writing citations.

“We don’t want to go out there and start issuing citations, but if there are people who are repeat offenders, people who we have given a warning to and (decide not to) disperse and we get a return call, we might issue out misdemeanor citations,” Low said.

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