Locals seem to be complying with the governor’s recent executive order imposing social distancing measures, law enforcement officials said Tuesday, and some calls for service are even down, what with the streets being quieter than normal.
On Tuesday, both Kerrville Police Chief David Knight and Kerr County Sheriff W.R. “Rusty” Hierholzer told The Times that their officers haven’t had to step in to ensure compliance.
“Voluntary compliance is what we’re always looking for, and I think the local population and business owners have grasped the gravity of what the impact could be locally by seeing what has happened nationally and worldwide, and we have not had any issues with regards to unauthorized gatherings or mass gatherings or anything of that nature,” Knight said.
On Sunday, Governor Greg Abbott warned that people could face fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail if they don’t comply with his order, which limits public gatherings to 10 people or less and has the effect of shuttering indoor areas of restaurants, bars, gyms, and other common gathering places until 11:59 p.m. April 3. Offices and grocery stores are exempted, as well as parks and other places, although some cities and counties have implemented more strict measures — on Tuesday, for example, Austin became another Texas jurisdiction to issue a “shelter in place order” closing nonessential operations and discouraging people from traveling except when necessary. Bexar County and San Antonio also have imposed shelter in place orders.
But it doesn’t appear that locals in Kerr County have to be reminded of penalties; their compliance seems motivated by a desire to keep themselves and their community safe from the virus, officials indicated.
“I think all in all our public is very receptive and very aware of this, and our county officials and city officials have done a good job of getting the word out and people are paying attention to it,” Hierholzer said.
But this doesn’t mean the police department and sheriff’s office haven’t had to make some changes.
Staff at the police department and sheriff's office are mindful of keeping the recommended 6 feet of distance between persons, said Hierholzer and Knight. This distance is to help prevent the airborne spread of infection. All visitors to the police department and sheriff’s office are being screened as well.
“The lobby is still open,” Knight said. “We are trying to take phone reports as much as possible.”
Visitors to the city police lobby are asked questions to determine whether they might be infected “before we start speaking to them directly,” he said.
At the county jail, work details and other activities have been limited for inmates, and volunteer visits and other visitations reduced, to reduce the likelihood of infection.
Even county staff could be seen giving one another wide berths at the courthouse on Monday. Employees observing the commissioners’ court meeting that morning stood apart from one another, and all were prohibited from entering the courtroom unless invited by commissioners. The Sheriff was seen to give a gentle reminder to this reporter to maintain distance.
“As long as we work together, we’ll get through it,” Hierholzer said.
Having enough protecting gear
As of Tuesday, 211 New York City police officers had been infected with the virus and 2,774 officers, or 7.6% of the department’s uniformed workforce, were out sick, according to news reports.
With a population of about 50,000 spread out over 1,107 square miles, having even a dozen law enforcement officers down sick locally could strain resources and affect services. The city of Kerrville has less than 70 officers total and Kerr County has about six deputies patrolling at any given time. Other law enforcement officers include the four constables, two game wardens, the Kerrville city marshal, and a few Ingram police officers, state troopers and DA’s office investigators.
This is one reason local law enforcement agencies want to make sure they have enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, available for however long the pandemic lasts. It’s easy to run out of some items such as rubber gloves, because items like that are single-use.
“We have enough right now for what they’re doing, but I’ll tell you right now there’s a nationwide shortage and we’re seeking to source additional supplies,” Knight said.
The PPE items recommended for officers in the field include disposable gloves, face masks — preferably the N95 model — eye protection such as goggles or a full face mask, and an overgown of some type that can be worn over the uniform, Knight said. But he said it’s not always easy for officers to have time to don all that equipment in the fast-paced environment that typifies police work. So KPD staff try to find out as far ahead as possible whether officers will be going into a situation where infection may occur. Dispatchers are instructed to ask callers COVID-19 screening questions to determine whether anyone on scene may be at risk of spreading the virus to officers or EMS personnel.
“That is a key component to trying to gain this information before contact is made,” Knight said.
Hierholzer said he has his deputies and other staff taking the same precautions, and his office also has enough PPE’s at present but is looking for additional sources to deal with the national shortage.