As positive COVID-19 tests in Maricopa County rose from 49 on March 21 to 689 in nine days, first responders are changing how they interact with the public.
“During this unprecedented time of pandemic, Goodyear officers are given the discretion to issue citations ... for cases involving nonviolent and misdemeanor offenses,” said Goodyear Interim Police Chief Santiago Rodriguez.
“The exception to this includes domestic violence and violent felony arrests. During this time, we are encouraging officers to utilize alternate arrest methods in order to reduce person to person contact as well as the transporting of suspects with the goal of preventing crowding in the jails.”
Similarly, Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall said, “I am advising officers to use discretion during patrol operations in regard to arrests,” Hall said.
“I directed Buckeye officers to make arrests as legally required but am also encouraging them to cite and release if appropriate for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses.”
Hall said he is “taking every precaution to minimize the exposure risk of COVID-19 to citizens and Buckeye police personnel.”
Rodriguez noted, “While the top priority of the Goodyear Police Department is public safety, it is also committed to the health of employees and residents.”
Avondale Police Chief Dale Nannenga said, “The Avondale Police Department has always allowed officers to utilize proper discretion when it comes to making an arrest or deciding to cite in lieu of detention or long form charges. These decisions are based on various scenarios and circumstances at the time of the incident that allow the officers and their supervisors to make a decision to arrest, cite or long form appropriate charges. Our officers will continue to make necessary arrests and continue responding to calls for service to ensure the safety of our community.
“However, like various agencies, we are utilizing proper personal protective equipment as needed and adhering to CDC guidelines for the safety of our officers and all citizens involved,” Nannenga added.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said March 26 her department is arresting fewer nonviolent offenders. The same day, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department updated its COVID-19 frequently asked questions.
“Many local law enforcement leaders, including Sheriff (Paul) Penzone, have empowered their patrol divisions to use discretion in circumstances when the offense is a non-violent misdemeanor offense. A citation or long form report is an option as we try to minimize exposure for our deputies while effectively reducing the jail population.”
The FAQ section also notes, “MCSO dispatch center has started to ask additional questions to provide more information to responding deputies to identify if additional personal protection equipment will be needed. When appropriate, community contact or reports will be taken by phone.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputies respond to calls from Litchfield Park and unincorporated areas of the West Valley.
“The Goodyear Police Department is taking every precaution and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health guidelines to keep our employees and the residents of Goodyear healthy and safe while providing the highest level of public safety and customer service,” Rodriguez added.
“In addition, I assigned Sgt. Eric Webster to be Goodyear’s Health and Safety officer who is tasked with department oversight as it pertains to COVID-19, including educating employees on preventing the spread. The department is working hard to ensure all employees have the proper protective equipment and supplies.”
While many other city employees are working from home, the Goodyear Police Department “remains fully staffed and has contingency plans in place to supplement our patrol staffing with officers in specialty roles, if needed.
“We are also cross training administrative staff and officers in the telecommunications role in order to backfill any staffing shortages that may appear in that critical role,” Rodriguez said.
In Buckeye, due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, the Buckeye Fire Department and the Buckeye Valley Fire District formed a joint COVID-19 Response Unit “to specifically deal with calls involving suspected coronavirus patients,” said Donna Rossi, a Buckeye spokeswoman.
She said each team is assigned to an ambulance that has an EMT driver from Buckeye Valley and a paramedic from Buckeye Fire.
“The unit will operate 24 hours a day out of temporary quarters to maintain separation from fire stations and personnel in order to minimize potential exposure,” Rossi said.
“For maximum protection, response teams will deploy in total personal protective equipment including a full bodysuit, mask, gloves and boot covers to prevent any skin exposure.”
Fire personnel had been “suiting up” and treating each call as if it was a COVID-19 incident, Rossi noted.
“I am grateful for the partnership with Buckeye Valley Fire District under the leadership of Chief Mark Burdick,” said Buckeye Fire Chief Bob Costello. “These teams will give us the ability to serve our residents in the most effective way, while maintaining the safety of our personnel.”
The first COVID-19 Response Team went into service March 30.
A second Buckeye team is scheduled to be added the week of April 6.