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California

O.C. sheriff closes station lobbies, reduces deputies’ public contact due to coronavirus

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes talks during a news conference about the death of Blaze Bernst
“Our foremost responsibility is to keep the community safe, while implementing precautionary measures to safeguard the health of the public who rely on our service and the members of the department who respond to their call,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.
(Chris Carlson / AP)

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes on Tuesday moved to decrease deputies’ contact with the public, closing front lobbies of stations and reducing the circumstances of taking in-person police reports and suspending visits to the jails.

“Our foremost responsibility is to keep the community safe, while implementing precautionary measures to safeguard the health of the public who rely on our service and the members of the department who respond to their call,” Barnes said.

In addition to closing front lobbies and substations, all volunteer programs are suspended; this includes senior programs in contract cities and those provided by jail volunteers.

Barnes is directing patrol deputies to use discretion in responding to calls for services that require social contact. Where possible, deputies will call reporting parties and take necessary reports over the phone.

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Community service officers and motor deputies will not respond to non-injury traffic collisions unless vehicles are disabled in the roadway or creating a hazard.

Public jail visiting is suspended, and inmates are provided two free five-minute phone calls per week.

Inmates are also being screened for jail intake with the County Health Care Agency’s Correctional Health Services.

All training at the Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy is suspended.

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“We are being proactive in limiting our actions to mission-critical activities at this unprecedented time,” Barnes said. “We will constantly reevaluate these measures and intend to return to full service as soon as it is reasonably safe.

“These temporary changes are necessary, enabling us to provide those services that are critical to keep the community safe. We are here, and will continue to be here for you.”

The move comes as the Los Angeles Police Department will shift half the detectives working in its community stations to daily patrol in order to ensure public peace.

Mayor Eric Garcetti made the announcement Monday evening, saying that the city’s detectives will start working on the streets to “help supplement our patrol officers.” Some detectives already are out there, the mayor said, to “make sure that any challenges that arise in our neighborhoods and grocery stores” are dealt with and to help people “feel secure in the city.”


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