KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
As the patrol car rolls up to the accident scene, officers exit and begin to evaluate the scene, checking for any safety concerns and making sure everyone is alright.
Sounds like a normal day on patrol, but now the officers have another concern. Novel coronavirus or COVID-19. What normally would be a routine call now takes on a new meaning of concern when talking about officer safety.
Now officers are required to wear gloves, evaluate if they can even approach the accident victims, and take information from a “safe” distance to prevent the possible exposure to COVID-19.
For Tech. Sgt. Derrick Tolbert, 403rd Security Forces Squadron combat arms noncommissioned officer in charge, this is the new normal at his civilian job as a patrolman for the Gulfport Police Department.
“Before we even go on a call, the dispatchers are having to ask screening questions. It puts limits on how we do our jobs,” said Tolbert.
Handling calls for service have changed drastically for those in policing. Now officers answer fewer calls but on those calls the community members are asked to step outside of their home to make reports. They have to be less ‘hands on’ when dealing with criminals, and more reports are being taken over the phone.
Tolbert, who appreciates the care and concern that his department has for the officers’ health and safety, said, “This is changing the way we police. Now our interactions are more difficult, because it takes the personal touch of community out of the picture.”
Now Tolbert not only has the demands of his civilian job changing, he has to work out a new training schedule for the firearms training of more than 1,600 Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 403rd Wing.
“Working in combat arms, we have to train the Airmen in the classroom on the weapons, both the M4 and the M9,” said Tolbert. “After the classroom they have to complete live fire qualifications and then make sure the training is documented.”
The combat arms personnel also conduct weapons inspections and maintenance on the firearms assigned to the wing every year.
While Tolbert works the streets, Senior Airman Jerry Primes, 403rd Maintenance Squadron fuel systems specialist, works special duty assignments for the Louisiana Division of Probation and Parole on his civilian job.
State Agent Primes is currently being tasked to work special security details at the New Orleans Convention Center that is being used to house around 1,000 people identified with COVID-19 and also at some of the local hotels, which opened up to provide the homeless a place to stay.
“Being tasked into the ‘hot spot’ of New Orleans puts more pressure on keeping safe,” said Primes. “While maintaining a ‘safe’ distance is normal, I now have to worry about what I may bring home to my family.”
Primes said that law enforcement officers have to deal with hard situations every day because people commit crimes whether there is a crisis going on or not and even when they are sick.
Both Tolbert and Prime also have to ensure that their civilian jobs and the possibility of exposure doesn’t go home to their families.
“I call my wife when I am headed home, so they can separate themselves from me,” said Primes. “I take my boots off outside, spray them down with disinfectant and seal them in a plastic bin.”
Both said that they immediately wash their uniforms and take showers before even coming into contact with their loved ones and are doing their best to maintain as normal a family life as possible.
For Tolbert, that means they try to find ways to stay busy and go outside on walks to do the “bear” hunts that have been organized in the neighborhood.
With the area that he is working in, Primes said, “I am taking the extra precautions of staying in the spare bedroom and using the extra bathroom, that the rest of the family doesn’t use to help maintain the separation and keep them protected.”
Laughing, Primes said that his wife wished he was on orders for his military job, even if he wasn’t at home.
“My military job is almost like working in a quarantine zone anyway,” he explained. “We have to wear full Tyvek suits, two pair of gloves, a respirator and even booties when we conduct inspections and repairs of the fuel tanks on the C-130J Super Hercules.”
Overall, both Airmen are maintaining a positive outlook when dealing with COVID-19 and accredit that to being able to talk and be around their families and coworkers that are in the same situation.