Scott Kirkpatrick, a detective sergeant with the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department, has been spending a lot of time behind the wheel and less time than usual behind his desk, even though traffic stops have dropped dramatically in the coronavirus crisis.
Three weeks ago, the sheriff’s department listed only three traffic stops, with a single ticket issued in a seven-day period. Kirkpatrick said when deputies do pull someone over, they’re supposed to don a mask, gloves and clear safety glasses before asking for a driver’s paperwork.
Police cruisers are a more controlled environment than an office, and deputies and patrol officers have all the tools they need, including computers, in their vehicles. So, they drive around to keep an eye on things, and sometimes just sit somewhere and watch the world go by.
Kirkpatrick said there’s a lot of the world going by, despite state and federal officials urging people to stay home. He said he’ll park near the roundabout at Routes 100 and 15 in Morristown and see all kinds of cars, some of them full of kids headed through the McDonald’s driv-thru, or just out cruising.
“When you watch 100 cars go through that intersection, you know those aren’t all essential workers,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re trying to be visible, but also minimize people exposing themselves.”
Sometimes, it pains him to have to tell people to go home. He said last week he was in Johnson and saw a couple of boys kicking a soccer ball back and forth on the elementary school grounds, in violation of the school’s and the town’s stay-at-home orders for youth. He had to tell them to move along, even though they were clearly at least 6 feet apart, more like 20 feet.
“It sucks,” he said. “It goes against everything we want to be as police officers interacting with the public. But a lot of (kids) just don’t understand the impact COVID has if you’re just not staying home.”
As a detective with the Lamoille County Special Investigations Unit, dealing with crimes like sexual and domestic violence and child abuse — and sometimes the intersection of all three — Kirkpatrick isn’t seeing an uptick in domestic violence cases, although he does understand the unease that advocates feel in just not knowing what’s going on behind closed doors (see related story).
What he is seeing is an uptick in cases of juveniles thinking about harming themselves. And that unnerves him.
He said there is “a pretty cool system in place” at Lamoille Union High School, and perhaps other schools, too, where teachers can notify the school resource officer if kids don’t check in with a teacher on their iPads when they’re supposed to.
“This has been just terrible for the mental health on kids in the community,” he said.
— Tommy Gardner
Police calls in Morristown have dropped significantly in the last few weeks.
Police typically handle about 100 incidents a week, but the final two weeks of March logged only 55 and 69 calls, respectively.
“There was a little bit of a lull” in late March, Morristown desk officer Andrew Glover said about late March, when many people began following Gov. Phil Scott’s order to stay home as much as possible and leave only for essentials.
Police, of course, are essential, and Glover said Morristown police “are out patrolling. We’re here. If you call us, we will come.” Glover said.
But police are also limiting their own exposure, too. For instance, traffic patrol: Police aren’t enforcing minor infractions because they want to minimize their potential exposure to coronavirus. But significant offenses will still draw a significant response.
The police aren’t enforcing the governor’s order to stay home, stay safe, and follow proper social distancing.
“We will respond to complaints,” Glover said, such as groups of young people playing basketball on school grounds, “but we’re not out patrolling for COVID-19-related violations.”
Police have fielded plenty of questions about the governor’s order and possible violations. For instance, do “essential employees” need special paperwork that allows them to travel?
“You do not need paperwork,” a Facebook post by the Morristown Police Department explained. “You will not be asked for paperwork by a police officer. You will not be stopped in a car and asked for essential worker paperwork.”
— Andrew Martin
Staying seen in Stowe
In Stowe, police calls and tickets have dropped. Chief Donald Hull said police are still working at full capacity and haven’t seen any real change in the types of calls they get.
Police are spending more times in their cruisers than at the station, because that’s healthier for them. They’re doing as much desk work as they can in their cruisers and take shifts in the office for tasks that require they be there.
“Right now, visibility is a key thing in certain areas of town,” Hull said, offering “confidence and reassurance that we’re responding to calls and we’re still out there if they need us.”
It’s also about social distance. Police have no legal basis to enforce a stay-at-home order, but they encourage people to split up when they’re found in places that have been closed to the public — such as the Stowe Elementary School playground or Memorial Park basketball and tennis courts — or are gathering in large numbers.
“If they see anybody at places that are closed or they see people gathering … they ask them to leave,” Hull said, and so far there haven’t been any problems. People are listening to the police.
“Everyone so far has been compliant,” Hull said. “From what I can tell, people are getting used to it.”
— Mike Verillo