By Dermot Connolly
The mandated restrictions on movement due to the coronavirus pandemic have affected most people’s lives, but local police, firefighters and paramedics are operating as normally as possible.
While their buildings are off limits to the public, local departments are assuring residents that they are responding to calls as usual, while wearing personal protective equipment for everyone’s safety.
“ No doubt, it is a strange time for us all,” said Palos Park Police Chief Joe Miller.
“ The precautions we mandate our officers take are unprecedented. Face shields, gloves worn any time they are out of their vehicle and hyper diligence on their part. We go home to new babies, elderly parents, ill family members praying we don’t bring home the virus with us.”
“ Our jobs dictate we act,” he continued. “Be it assisting a senior or a retail theft call or helping someone in our vulnerable population, our beat structure (requires) dedicating an officer’s unobligated time to certain proactive, task- specific services and prevention.”
“ We don’t want to alarm people, but we are adjusting our patrol officers’ usage of their PPE masks, in particular, one of their tools for protective gear in patrol operational support. Whenever Palos Park officers are out of their patrol unit for service calls, requests, assisting people, they will have their PPE masks on as a safety precaution, said the chief. “Like any employer we have a strong commitment to our staff’s protection, safety and well-being.”
Miller said his department is using the “green card in the window” program to help seniors and others in self-quarantine during the coronavirus. Volunteers in several neighborhoods are checking on neighbors, so the green card should be taped to the front door if the residents inside are OK. If they need help, their phone number should be written on the card.
“ The goal of the program is to help the elderly and some of those most vulnerable to the virus. The residents said, especially in times like these, neighbors must help each other,” he said. Some residents are posting “Good Neighbor Volunteer” placards in their windows, to let others know they are available to help.
Miller said his department is also utilizing a “virtual roll call” for patrol officers, in which they don’t gather together but still ensure they are getting into clean squad cars, \have personal protective equipment and receive watch summaries.
“ We still must maintain eLearning and eTraining for officers, and they can do that remotely,” he added.
Palos Hills Deputy Police Chief Traci Hlado had a similar message, as did police officials in Oak Lawn and Palos Heights in recent weeks.
“The Palos Hills Police Department has currently closed the front lobby to the public. But we still have officers actively patrolling the area and responding to calls for assistance,” said Hlado on Tuesday. “They are wearing their personal protective equipment when interacting with the public for the safety of everyone involved.
Evergreen Park Deputy Police Chief Peter Donovan said his officers have also been issued the protective N95 masks “and will use them as needed.”
“ We have restricted access to the station. We continue to respond to all emergency calls just as before. Whenever possible, officers are taking reports over the phone,” said Donovan.
He said that from his observations, “a great majority of the people” are maintaining the stay-at-home orders. But he added that it is too early to assess whether the current conditions have had an effect on crime levels.
Chicago Ridge Deputy Police Chief Brian Galske expressed "gratitude to everyone in Chicago Ridge and the general area in complying with Gov. Pritzker's shelter in place order. With their compliance we as a community, state, and country will defeat this virus. It’s tough for people to resort in their homes for such a long time but we will prevail. "
"I’d like to thank fellow first responders and most importantly the health care workers we see in the front lines helping victims who are dealing with the virus. We at the Chicago Ridge Police Department wish everyone to stay safe. Stay healthy and to stay home. Help a relative, neighbor or friend who can’t get to a store for necessities."
He advised seniors who need help with anything during this time to contact the PLOWS Council on Aging.
While police departments contacted this week could not say officially whether crime is down, the number of arrests reported to the press by those who normally do so is down in recent weeks all over the area. A reduction in retail thefts would be expected, with many stores closed and others monitoring the number of people allowed inside.
Orland Park officials addressed many of these issues on several issues this week on the website www.orlandpark.org/coroonavirusinfo , which is regularly updated.
Mayor Keith Pekau said Tuesday that 61 cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed in the village, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health.
He said the village departments are functioning normally, despite building closures, and Police Chief Tim McCarthy and Orland Park Fire District Chief Mike Schofield said their departments were as well.
McCarthy noted that the lobby of the police department at 15100 S. Ravinia Avenue is now closed to the public between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but police are responding to all calls wearing personal protective devices.
“Please know that the safety of our residents is most important,” said McCarthy, urging residents to call 911 as needed.
“If you notice that our 911 operators ask more questions than usual, don’t be alarmed. It is not delaying our response to calls. We are computer dispatched automatically,” said Schofield, who explained that the questions are asked so first responders have the necessary information to protect the health and safety of everyone involved.