The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department has had to adapt in the past few weeks as it protects against the new threat of the coronavirus.
John Backer, police operations captain for UNLPD, said the department is trying to limit its interactions with others inside and outside the department, but personnel are prepared for the situation in which they would have to come into contact with an infected person.
“For us it’s a lot of when, and not ifs, for those times,” he said. “We want to be as ready as possible, so we’re treating it as if it's imminent.”
Backer said officers are doing as much police work as they can over the phone and will go out individually if they are patrolling or need to investigate. If the safety of an officer is a concern, they will still send two out together.
“We’re not going to sacrifice the quality of [a] case,” Backer said. “We’re not going to sacrifice the quality of our interactions with people, but we want to make them as safe as possible, both for the officer and for the individuals we’re coming in contact with.”
The department has a stash of personal protective equipment including disposable and N95 masks, according to Officer Josh Rubottom. He said officers are also required to wipe down anything they use, including computers and police cruisers, at the beginning and end of their shifts.
“Everything is in the perspective of don’t spread the virus,” he said. “Our main focus right now is to be there for people on campus and the surrounding areas and make sure people are still protected and property safe, but at the same time we have to take precautions ourselves to take care of ourselves so we're there for the community.”
Along with protecting the health of the department, UNLPD is using its position to teach people why social distancing protects them and those around them.
“Most times it’s an education and warning issue that we’re coming across that people aren’t aware just what social distancing and that gathering limit is,” Backer said.
Rubottom said many people will go onto closed basketball courts or soccer fields not realizing they are trespassing, and officers will explain to them why they need to stay home.
“Even during that time, we still give people a break because we understand people want to go outside and exercise and get fresh air,” he said.
Rubottom said no criminal action is taken against people who violate social distancing guidelines or who trespass for fresh air because UNLPD recognizes the situation they are in.
“You gotta think of everything in context,” he said. “It’s a lot of just educational talks right now and reminding people, ‘Hey, you know, you all have to abide by this right now. We’re all in this together.’”
Backer said the changes from the coronavirus do not affect UNLPD’s overall mission.
“Our overall goal as a department is to still provide the same level of service to the university that we do every other day,” he said. “It’s just going to look a little bit different.”