How COVID-19 is impacting local law enforcement response

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- In the midst of dealing with COVID-19, law enforcement is one of the jobs that can't be done from home. But like all of us, they are making some changes.

"Right now is a strange time for police officers. It's different, but we're doing our job every day," says Major Andrew Popochock with the Bellevue Police Department.

Like many agencies across the state, Bellevue Police officers are trying to adjust to current circumstances.

"There is one specific change that people will notice when they call 911 and that is the question of if they're experiencing flu-like symptoms. The specific reason we're asking that is to make sure that our officers and firefighters coming to your call are wearing proper equipment. It has no relevance on whether or not we're coming," says Popochock.

Several agencies, like Kirkland Police and the King County Sheriff's Office, say their dispatchers will also ask callers if they're sick if time allows in an emergency.

"We're just asking if you do get asked that question to make sure you answer it honestly, just so we can wear the proper equipment when we get there because that's the most important part, keeping our officers safe so we can continue to protect the community."

Popochock says if you tell them you're sick, the only difference in their response will be wearing protective gear, if time allows. In some emergency situations, officers won't have time to gear up.

Some agencies say their protective gear during this time consists of masks, gloves, and eyewear. Bellevue and Kirkland Police say their officers will have the option to wear a Tyvek suit when responding to calls where they feel it's necessary.

Popochock says Bellevue officers may also ask some people to step outside when they respond to calls, and avoid going inside their homes is possible. This is something other agencies tell Q13 News they're also practicing to keep officers and the public safe.

Seattle Police are now only taking non-emergency reports via phone or online. While other agencies we spoke with, like Bellevue Police, aren't making that a policy, they are asking the public to help them model that same system for non-emergencies.

"It is another piece of social distancing we’re trying to practice and we want to make sure we model that with the community, that we are doing proper social distancing as well," says Major Popochoch.