A few weeks ago, the Daviess County Detention Center started sending out a work crew to do trash pickup along highways, and mowing and other work on county-owned properties.
In 2019, that wouldn’t have been significant because inmate work crews could be found at the county transfer station, animal shelter and working for the state Transportation Cabinet. But when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of society in early 2020, all jail work crews were suspended.
The jail’s work crew, which has collected more than 6,000 pounds of trash since resuming work three weeks ago, is an indication that operations for area law enforcement agencies are inching back toward the pre-pandemic normal.
“We submitted our plan to DOC (the Department of Corrections) and we got approved to resume at least one work crew that is supervised by a deputy,” Jailer Art Maglinger said last week. Other work crews are still on hold because DOC doesn’t want state inmates on crews being supervised or around anyone other than jail staff. But the hope is the DOC will approve more crews in the future, he said.
“There are state inmate shortages all across county jails,” Maglinger said. “I think some of that is because of COVID.”
Last year, the DOC released more than 35,000 state inmates from prisons and jails due to the pandemic.
“We are hoping we can get more crews up and running when we get more state inmates,” Maglinger said.
Other agencies are moving closer to pre-pandemic normal operations by making more arrests, resuming activities halted by COVID-19, sending officers hired before or during the pandemic to the state’s law enforcement academy, and restarting officer recruitment efforts.
Major Barry Smith, chief deputy for the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department, said deputies have resumed serving warrants, which was halted by the pandemic.
“We’re back, as far as warrants go,” Smith said last week. “We’re back to serving the warrants and taking them to detention.”
Law enforcement agencies switched to citing many nonviolent offenses to court rather than transporting them to jail during the pandemic to keep the jail’s population as low as possible. People are still being cited in those cases, he said.
“Most people we arrest on non-warrant-related offenses are needing detention anyway, such as DUIs and assaults,” Smith said. “I think the uptick you see in people being lodged (at the detention center) is due to warrants.”
Normal has returned in the sense that the sheriff’s department can now send new deputies to the law enforcement academy in Richmond.
“They are doing full classes, but they have different provisions,” Smith said.
For example, deputies at the academy can’t share rooms or vehicles, so the department has to pay for extra lodging and transportation.
“We are having to put our employees in local hotels,” in Richmond, Smith said.
The availability of COVID-19 vaccinations has helped get daily operations back to normal because the risk of a positive case causing a number of deputies to quarantine has been reduced, Smith said.
“We are taking all the precautions necessary” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Smith said. “... The advantage now is everyone has been given the opportunity to be vaccinated, so that’s going to help.
“We are still concerned about exposures. We are not concerned that an exposure in the office would be detrimental in that an exposure would cause a widespread outbreak.”
Officials with the Owensboro Police Department declined to comment for this story last week.
One agency that is continuing to operate under full pandemic procedures is Owensboro-Daviess County 911 dispatch center.
“We are still in COVID phase, doing social distance,” said Paul Nave, the center’s director. “We are unique because we all have to work in the same room. “
As with the sheriff’s office and the Kentucky State Police, vaccines were made available to dispatchers but were not mandatory.
“I don’t know the number that participated and the ones that didn’t,” Nave said. Vaccines were offered to dispatchers early in the year, and the staff “were absolutely welcome” to get vaccinated, he said.
In daily operations, dispatchers are still asking COVID screening questions to 911 callers. Also, non-emergency reports that would have been handled by an officer prior to the pandemic are now often handled over the phone.
Corey King, public affairs officer for KSP’s Henderson post, said troopers are still wearing masks and regularly disinfecting patrol vehicles. KSP dispatch is also taking full COVID precautions.
“We are still sanitizing everything like we were at the beginning,” King said. “We are protecting (troopers) first and foremost,” because manpower is limited.
But some operations that stopped last year have resumed, such as road checks and “proactive patrol measures,” he said.
King did not have information on the number of troopers at the post who received a COVID vaccine.
Recruitment was hampered by the pandemic, but KSP is ready to resume its ride-along programs, which King said is an important tool for drawing prospective new officers to the agency.
“Recruitment is one of those things we put in the forefront because we have to,” King said.
The agency is doing ride-alongs for potential applicants, but they must first take a COVID test and use health precautions such as face masks.
Applicants “get to see the job first-hand,” King said, while making a personal connection with a trooper at the post.
“Having that name and face connection, that breaks the ice and encourages them to step forward” and apply to be a trooper, he said.
The pandemic forced the agency to “think outside the box” with recruitment, using tools like videos, podcasts and billboards, King said.
“As an agency, we really have increased our recruitment division... Certainly, once you see (the health guidelines) releasing, you’re going to see us more at the colleges and military bases.”
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse