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Cambridge Police Attempt to Minimize COVID-19 Exposure, Prepare to Respond to Domestic Violence

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As the coronavirus continues to spread, the Cambridge Police Department is working to minimize officers’ exposure to the pathogen and prioritize the safety of people who may be experiencing domestic abuse during the ongoing statewide stay-at-home advisory.

CPD spokesperson Jeremy Warnick said Tuesday that the department has been “ahead of the curve” in taking health precautions against COVID-19. It converted non-emergency operations to a telephone hotline beginning about two weeks ago, and it is closely coordinating field responses with Cambridge Fire and EMS services.

“For a lot of calls that are not crimes in progress, in which someone wants to file a report with an officer and with the department, we're doing that over the phone now,” Warnick said. “So we have set up a room in which we have at minimum three officers working — a supervisor and two officers — at all times 24/7.”

While CPD has not yet reported a positive coronavirus test, other police forces across the country have seen droves of officers sidelined due to COVID-19. Over 1,400 New York City Police Department officers, for instance, have already tested positive for the virus.

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In emergency scenarios, dispatchers have focused on more thorough “vetting” of callers’ health conditions so that first responders know whether to wear personal protection equipment.

CPD has also coordinated emergency service duties with Cambridge Fire Department and Pro EMS, the city’s local ambulance provider, to ensure officers are only responding to the scene when they are needed. According to Warnick, CPD has deferred a “large sum” of medical calls to CFD and Pro EMS over the last few weeks.

While CPD has brought many of its operations indoors, Warnick said these measures have not affected police presence in Cambridge. Instead of running its usual schedule of four shifts per day, CPD is deploying officers in two 12-hour shifts to offer its officers more flexibility.

“What that does is that allows us to have an increased bandwidth in the event that a number of officers are sick, need to be quarantined because of exposure, need to attend to personal matters because of the virus, whatever it may be,” Warnick said. “So we essentially have a more robust shift per shift now.”

During these longer shifts, officers have continued to operate as usual, wearing high-visibility uniforms to alert people of their presence and donning masks when engaging with the public at close distances, according to Warnick.

He added that in light of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s stay-at-home advisory, CPD officers will verbally engage Cambridge residents to disband large gatherings, but will not issue citations to offenders. Other police forces across the country, such as in New Jersey, have begun issuing citations and even arresting citizens for non-compliance.

“It’s an advisory, not something enforceable,” Warnick said of Massachusetts’s notice. “But really, the city's been really responsive to that in terms of taking down nets and taking off rims and locking playgrounds, that type of thing. So it's made it a little bit easier from a police perspective, but we are not issuing any sort of citations.”

With so many residents staying at home, CPD anticipates its officers will respond to more domestic violence cases, he said.

On Wednesday, the CPD Domestic Violence Unit released a statement on its website acknowledging the challenges that shelter-in-place and social distancing guidelines pose for people who have experienced domestic violence. The statement also provided a list of domestic violence resources.

The website states that department members are working extended hours to provide emergency response for “active incidents of domestic abuse” as well as “after the fact follow-up support services.”

Sarah Gyorog — executive director of Transition House, a Cambridge-based domestic violence shelter — said CPD’s domestic violence unit has been in close contact with her shelter to provide up-to-date resources.

“Our community team has been working with the domestic violence advocate there at the Cambridge Police Department to keep a running list of resources,” she said on Wednesday. “They're actually reaching out to all contacts and updating it on a daily basis.”

Gyorog added that these communications are crucial during the stay-at-home advisory as people experiencing abuse find it increasingly difficult to navigate domestic life.

“People who are experiencing an abusive relationship, they’re doing something that people on the outside might not realize: they're continuously safety planning,” she explained. “And a lot of the outlets for that safety planning are limited now with coronavirus.”

“So without any of those opportunities to get away, it's creating a much more high-pressure situation at home,” she added.

—Staff writer Charles Xu can be reached at charles.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @charles_xu_27.

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