Pandemic Patrol

Ottawa County and Grand Haven officers work together on a minor injury crash involving an inmate van in April 2019.

Local police say they have seen an increase in domestic violence calls as the state locks down on human interaction in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Traffic, on the other hand, has diminished greatly since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to “Stay Home, Stay Safe.”

“The road guys are saying that it is a little bit eerie out there with not much traffic on the road,” Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker said Tuesday.

Overall, calls have decreased, but not by a great amount, the sheriff said. There’s been an uptick in domestic violence complaints, mostly due to “lots of added stressors playing on family lives right now,” Kempker said.

It’s worse for families where both the husband and wife have lost their jobs, the sheriff said. Those families are wondering about a paycheck and being able to buy food and other items.

Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke said his officers have responded to five family trouble calls and two disorderly subjects in the past few days.

Kempker noted that the governor encouraged Michiganders to get outside and get some fresh air, but to make sure to maintain the 6-foot distance from everyone.

Like everyone else, the Sheriff’s Office is taking added precautions as staff continues to offer its full range of services, Kempker said. People in the offices are not visiting back and forth. Anyone who can work from home is doing just that.

“I’m looking out my office window and there are 20 cars in the parking lot,” Kempker said. “These are essential personnel. It’s amazing how many people here can work remotely from home.”

Kempker encourages people to look to the county’s website, miottawa.org, as many operations are available online.

Who can be on the road?

Kempker said that anyone conducting essential business, whether it is for work or going to the grocery store, can be on the road.

Deputies will not stop vehicles for being out there, but they will stop you if you are disobeying the law. Officers are taking a more “hands-off” approach as far as enforcing the stay-at-home order, but they will step in as necessary.

Police said they would start with warnings, but issue tickets as necessary.

“We’re actually handing out information sheets,” Kempker said, referring to the “Stay Home. Stay Safe. Save Lives” flier put out by the state. It can be found at michigan.gov/coronavirus.

Hawke said that his officers are operating in a similar capacity.

“We will start with a warning and education regarding the order,” he said. “Violations of the governor’s emergency orders will be handled by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.”

The Sheriff’s Office has been getting some calls from people concerned about the operation of local businesses such as the Tyson plant on 96th Avenue.

“The large meat producer is considered an essential service,” Kempker said.

Jail population reduced

The sheriff said that the jail population has also been reduced.

“I made a request for the judges to review cases, notably the ones with underlying health issues,” Kempker said. “Several nonviolent inmates have been released from the county jail.”

Still, the jail is offering 24/7 medical service, and all staff and inmates are full screened, Kempker said.

Anyone arrested will be bonded out, if at all possible, the sheriff said. It depends on the seriousness of the offense.

Kempker assures the public that anyone charged with a serious offense would still be kept in jail.

Services suspended

Police departments across the state have suspended use of their civilian volunteers and reserves, Kempker said.

“That is for their safety and for the safety of our essential staff,” the sheriff said.

“It’s tough for them, too. They provide a huge benefit for our community.”

Victim advocates are also not responding to scenes, but they are available by phone, if needed.

Some of the suspended services include programs used in the jail such as Forgotten Man Ministries and the GED program.

“It’s disappointing, but necessary,” Kempker said.

Police are continuing to respond to all calls as usual, Kempker and Hawke both said, but are taking additional precautions such as asking a person to step outside and using a safe distance. They are also making calls instead of in-person visits for nonemergency situations.

Hawke said that the city has experienced success with the curfew warning that was issued last week. There are fewer kids out at night and there has been no new vandalism or theft from cars, he said.

Public appreciation

Kempker said that community support for law enforcement and all first responders has been fantastic.

“People have been calling here and asking what they can do,” he said.

Brent Vanderkamp from New Holland Brewery donated a batch of hand sanitizer made by his staff to the Sheriff’s Office, Kempker said.

“Our biggest concern right now is personal protection equipment,” the sheriff said. “Our deputies have masks and gloves,” but they were down on hand sanitizer. “We’re first in the line of contact and we’re worried about bringing the virus home to our families, too.”

Kempker noted a call he received from an area resident who said “thank you.”

“A deputy on patrol saw her standing in the window and waved,” he said.

Since she was observing the request to stay home, she was happy to see police on patrol and happy to have the interaction, the sheriff said.

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