SIOUX CITY, Iowa — “Right when this first started, we did have three officers come down with it. We found out about that right away.”
Police Chief Ed Mahon took the lead of the South Sioux City Police Department in May 2016. Four years later, he and his department are battling something other than crime.
South Sioux City isn’t alone.
“You just have to expect the possibility that you are going to have positive cases and be ready to deal with those in the best manner that we can.” Rex Mueller is the police chief in Sioux City. He has seen COVID-19 cases among his officers and staff, too. He even tested positive himself early on.
“Beyond the initial individuals, including myself, that diagnosed with COVID, we haven't seen any significant outbreaks or presence of the disease in our department,” Chief Mueller said.
Both departments quickly made changes in an effort to keep the virus out and keep their officers safe without impacting community safety.
“We did for a while have a mandatory mask in the building,” Chief Mahon said about South Sioux City. “If we have more than one person in a car, they always have to wear masks. Otherwise, it's been hygiene. I don't think our cars have ever been this clean.”
Officers in Sioux City also made adjustments Chief Mueller said. “We encouraged them to social distance, initiated mask policies, did everything we could to allow us to continue to interact with our public and provide positive public safety, but avoid the social contact that might lead to the spread of the disease.”
In Sioux City, with a population of over 32,000, those changes came in the form of procedure. “Well, a lot of our changes have been in relation to procedure, how we responded to calls,” Chief Mueller said. “We allowed our officers and empowered our officers to take a lot of them by phone.”
South Sioux City is also handling more complaints by phone, when necessary, to cut down on physical contact.
“If a citizen wants to call in a complaint and they are in a hurry and it takes a while to get there, it could help them as well as us,” Mahon said of the changes.
When they do respond to a call, the officers try to do as much outside as possible.
“We will ask them to come outside,” said Chief Mahon. “And it's trying to keep our exposure and our citizens' exposure to a minimum.”
In South Sioux City, Chief Mahon said his team has stepped up their sanitizing efforts, cleaning their shared patrol cars and spaces multiple times a day. “Not only for us,” Mahon said, “but for the people we are forced to put inside of them, too.”
As both departments work to keep everyone safe and COVID-19 at bay, the biggest challenge has been making sure the community doesn’t see or feel those adjustments to the procedure.
“The pandemic has caused a lot of challenges for our department, but we are still essential service providers so we could not let up on our service. We still had to respond to those calls of service and the needs of the community. But we wanted to do so safely,” said Chief Mueller “So our challenge has been, how do we provide a consistent amount of services as we did before the pandemic to our citizens while still remaining safe.”
It's a difficult balancing act. Like healthcare workers, law enforcement officers can’t do their job from home.
“We don't have the ability, if we are not feeling sick, to not come to work,” Mahon said.
Mueller agreed, “they don't have the opportunity to work from home and stay isolated, they have to be out in the public.”
Both Police Chief’s commended their officer’s response to the pandemic, saying they’ve really stepped up to ensure public safety. “They've just handled this incredibly well and continue to maintain a high level of service and do their jobs and they've been very brave about it,” said Mueller.
Overall, both Mueller and Mahon say the changes made haven't impacted the service they provide to their communities.
“Really, I am hoping that they didn't perceive much of a change,” Mueller said. “I am hoping that they perceive or see that we've tried to maintain the same services that we did, but we've just evolved those services a little bit to content with COVID-19.”
If anything, it's made each of their departments better.
“I think this is just put a new light on that and has allowed us to initiate mechanisms that would keep our folks safer in any situation like that. Not only from COVID but any community issues related to health,” Mueller said. “We've moved forward and do what we have to do to provide positive community safety.”
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