Essential Workers: Law EnforcementApril 15, 2020
By BILL POWELL
The Dubois County Sheriff’s Office recently posted a looking-back piece about a deputy shot in the line of duty, saying the sergeant involved, whose injuries were non-life-threatening, saved the life of a rookie deputy named Stuart Wilson.
Now, 20 years later, Wilson is a sergeant himself, a senior member of the department and among the essential public safety workers responding to the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19.
Chief among those effects is trying to limit officers’ contact with the public, even though the very nature of the job requires interaction with people.
“It’s difficult to find that balance for safety for the public and safety for our own staff,” Wilson says. “It’s a very unnerving situation knowing that we all are having contact with lots of people whether we want to or not because it’s part of our job.”
But, although this threat is different, the sergeant says it is part of a law enforcement officer’s job to deal with threats on a daily basis.
“I think our people are very well equipped mentally to handle the stress of this situation,” Wilson says.
Non-emergency calls that do not require the physical presence of an officer are handled over the phone and it is now standard procedure to ask standard screening questions: Do you have a fever? Have you been exposed to someone who has been sick?
“If we have contact with someone and they are at their house, we can ask them to step outside if that’s possible and we can keep an appropriate distance from them to limit exposure,” Wilson says. “The more we can limit our direct contact ... the better off our staff is and the better off our inmate population is.
“We have ourselves to keep safe and an inmate population we have to keep safe.”
Jail staff are being extraordinarily cautious with their day-to-day tasks, Wilson says.
To that end, access for the public at the Dubois County Security Center has been curtailed, all employees are temperature tested each day and the sanitizing and hand-washing never stops.
Officers are issued various and sundry items of personal protective equipment but the realities of day, specifically when officers are dispatched to emergencies, limit how much gearing up can be done.
“I think we’re being as proactive as we reasonably can be,” Wilson says. “I think the best way to express it is it’s really an unprecedented time.
“I never thought I’d see anything like this,” he said. “I’m not horribly surprised that we have a pandemic flu. But the direct effects of it on our day-to-day operations is kind of surprising.”
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