Sergeant Daniel Martin keeps a bottle of hand sanitizer in his patrol car at all times.
“Every time I get back in, I wash down with it,” he said.
These are nervous times to be in law enforcement.
With the coronavirus pandemic fast-spreading around the state and nation and the rate of cases only expected to only accelerate in Georgia in April, deputies and officers can neither stay at home or social distance. That six-foot buffer recommended by health experts quickly goes by the wayside whenever a situation calls for an arrest and handcuffs.
Madison County law enforcement officers find themselves battling the unknown in their daily duties.
“If somebody was combative or something and we had to deal with them … the biggest thing we’re up against is we don’t know who has it,” said Martin, who is a six-year veteran of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
To help guard against the transmission of COVID-19, all Madison County deputies are equipped with gloves, N95 masks and a face shield.
But there’s a high demand for those items, and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) has limited stock, according to Martin. Every deputy has at least one N95 mask, but they’re not used by deputies for each call.
“Because we’ve got to make them last,” Martin said. “We only use them if we have to, or if there’s a reason we think the person may have it (coronavirus).”
Coronavirus has taken a toll on larger law enforcement agencies in the country already. It was reported last week that over 1,400 members of the New York Police Department had contracted the virus while 500 Detroit police officers were quarantined.
If COVID-19 were to spread through a small department like Madison County, the result could be serious.
“The thing we have to worry about is there’s only so many deputies in Madison County,” Martin said, “and if a few of us get it, we could be very easily down to not enough to serve the county.”
To help protect against that, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office is allowing deputies to handle as many non-emergency calls as possible by phone.
Clint Segars, who has spent 11 years with the MCSO, called that “huge.”
“That cuts down on the number of contacts we have with other people,” he said. “A lot of calls we can handle by phone that we normally wouldn’t.”
Martin hopes citizens understand the change in protocol doesn’t mean apathy.
“It’s not because we don’t want to or we don’t care about what’s going on,” he said. “That’s just part of what we’ve got to do.”
Of course, for incidents like domestic cases, an on-scene response is the only option, and Martin said he’s seeing more of those. With families forced to remain at home and within close proximity to one another during the coronavirus crisis, disputes tend to arise.
“We always see an increase in domestic disturbance calls at times like these, at holidays, for example, when family members are cooped up together, kids are out of school,” Martin said. “Folks can help out tremendously if they try to get along the best they can.”
Segars offers a similar observation with many on quarantine and schools closed for the year.
“Everybody is cramped up together, and juveniles are out of school,” he said. “It seems like we’ve had more juvenile complaints, people calling about kids.”
And the subject of coronavirus seems to be working its way into a few encounters deputies are having with the public. “Cases” of coronavirus have spontaneously arisen when some people face arrest.
“I have run into cases where people don’t want to go to jail, and as soon as they find out they’re going, then all of a sudden they have coronavirus,” Martin said.
Segars has witnessed this, too.
“That’s come up once or twice,” he said. “The EMT checks them out … The times I can think of, it turns out they didn’t have corona. They were just trying to say they did to hope they would get turned loose.”
Deputies are asking more questions before transporting offenders to jail, like if they have been in contact with anyone who is sick or have a family member that is sick. While deputies are worried about their own health, their concerns extend beyond their own well-being. The vast majority of the department has families at home.
“Nobody wants to get it, but you don’t want to bring it home to your wife and kids, either,” said Segars, who is married with three kids.
“We all have families,” Martin said. “The last thing I want to do is bring it home and spread it to the kids, and my parents are older.”
Madison County law enforcement officers now move into April with coronavirus cases having not yet spiked in Georgia. Experts point to a late-April peak for infections in the state.
“With the news, and all the stuff that you hear, there’s a lot of places that have it worse right now than we do, and it definitely weighs on your mind the whole day you’re at work,” Martin said.
Yet, the work continues.
“You just be as cautious as you can while still doing your job,” Segars said.