Local Law Enforcement Alters Operations During Pandemic

Street officers were limiting their physical interactions with other people and jail visits have been temporarily suspended

By Justin Franz
A guard checks the rooms at the Flathead County jail. Beacon File Photo

Local law enforcement agencies are changing how they serve the public during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and Kalispell Police Department both recently announced the actions to reduce the risk of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, to their officers and the public. Among the biggest changes will be what type of calls sheriff’s deputies respond to. The sheriff’s office will reduce the number of incidents they go to where no crime has been committed and there is no safety or security concern present. The Kalispell Police Department will also no longer help people unlock their cars unless there is a child or animal stuck inside the vehicle.

The Flathead County Detention Center has also temporarily suspended in-person jail visits, although video visits will continue. Sheriff Brian Heino said that whenever someone is arrested and sent to the local jail, they are screened and have their temperature taken. If they have a fever or other symptoms they are isolated from the general jail population. Across the country, there have been concerns about outbreaks of the virus in jails and in Yellowstone County at least two detention officers have tested positive for the virus.

Some services have also been suspended for the time being, including finger printing, concealed weapons permit applications and vehicle identification number inspections. Sex offender registration will continue in accordance with the law.

Lake and Lincoln counties have also instituted similar rules for engaging with the public.

Heino said that while area roads have been quieter, deputies are still responding to a variety of issues stemming from people being stuck at home. However, overall, he said there have been few major issues during the outbreak. His biggest message to the public is to help others when you can and from a safe distance.

“We need to help each other out during these times,” he said. “We need to act like neighbors. Call them up to see how they’re doing. If they need a cup of sugar, share with them.”

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