Kern County, CA –Kern County sheriff’s deputies will only respond in-person to situations involving life-threatening emergencies for at least the next several weeks due to concerns about coronavirus.
Citizens reporting non-emergency incidents or offenses that are not in-progress have been asked to do so over the phone or online, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) said in a press release on Thursday.
“We will still respond to the area as needed to address any other portions of the investigation, but will be limiting contact with the public for the safety and protection of community members and peace officers,” the department said.
Civilian ride-alongs and KCSO participation in community events have been cancelled at least through the end of March.
Inmate visitation has been indefinitely suspended at all local detention centers, and the department is working to establish video visitations in the interim, The Bakersfield Californian reported.
Attorney visits with inmates will still be allowed, according to KTLA.
The department said that the temporary changes were made “out of an abundance of caution” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the press release.
“The purpose is to ensure the health and safety of our community as public safety is our number one priority,” the KCSO said.
The department also has mutual aid agreements with local and state law enforcement agencies “should a law enforcement agency have staffing issues due to illness,” according to the press release.
“If things were really to get bad in Kern County only, we could ask for mutual aid and the state would send us additional officers,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said during a press conference on Thursday. “We might have to send officers to [other counties] if things get bad for them.”
Sheriff Youngblood also asked citizens to alert first responders if they believe they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, The Bakersfield Californian reported.
“If we start losing employees to this virus, it’s going to really limit our ability to [respond to calls],” Sheriff Youngblood explained. “We’re just going to try to avoid as much one-on-one contact as we can.”
He said the department is also working to find a way to “pre-screen” suspects before they are brought into the jail facility.
Those who may have the virus will be held at a separate containment facility.
“This is a complicated issue,” Sheriff Youngblood acknowledged. “We are as prepared as we possibly can be to handle this, but the virus is going to do what the virus does.”
The Delano and Bakersfield police departments will still respond to all calls, but have closed up the front lobbies of their headquarters and the Bakersfield westside substation and are not allowing members of the public, The Bakersfield Californian reported.
“Our officers and staff are going to do everything we can to help prevent spread within our community,” Bakersfield Police Department (BPD) spokesperson Kelsey Brackett told the paper.