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Department officers are handling more responses via phone and sometimes wear masks

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Officer McCluskey shows some of what she has to wear when answering a call in person. Besides wearing glasses and gloves, she also wears a mask.

Though we're in the midst of a global pandemic — caused by the spread of the disease COVID-19 — a gamut of professions deemed essential still need to provide services to their community.

Police officers, including those stationed in Wilsonville, are among those essential workers.

With officers needing to respond to police calls by the hour, and in turn risking contracting and spreading the virus, the Wilsonville Police Department is taking precautions and planning how to proceed if the crisis continues for the foreseeable future.

"For us a lot of the work is looking at what's next. What do we need to plan ahead for? What do we do when things get worse, potentially?" Wilsonville Police Chief Rob Wurpes said.

One precaution the department is taking is responding to as many calls as possible via phone rather than visiting the site. However, sometimes circumstances require them to respond in person.

For example, Wurpes said: "In a vehicle break in, we're going to call to ask questions. 'What time of day? What footage do you have? Are there fingerprints?' If the answer is no, 'Here's your case number; we'll keep an eye out.' So then we wouldn't go. If the answer is yes, that there is camera footage or a fingerprint (sometimes they are easy to spot), we will go out."

Wurpes also said officers wear masks, glasses and gloves under certain circumstances and apply sanitizer to their workspace and hands.

"If the dispatcher reports of (someone having) flu-like symptoms or a cold we may wear a mask if we have to talk to those people in person," he said.

If the virus spreads within the department, Wurpes said they would increase the length of shifts from 10 to 12 hours to reduce shift variance and could potentially use student resource officers and traffic officers to respond to regular calls.

"We have to take care of our folks so they can take care of the community as best they can," Wurpes said

As for criminal activity since the virus led to many people spending most of their days at home, Wurpes said they saw an initial uptick in calls but that things have normalized. However, he said people should take precautions to prevent car and mail theft. There were four stolen cars or vehicles in a recent Wilsonville police log.

"Unfortunately there's people who are going to take advantage of situations like this," he said.

And a declining economy and an increase in unemployment can also lead to an increase in theft, Wurpes said.

"I know anecdotally from past experience, when the economy is down it creates a lot of hardship for folks and we will see increases in theft and shoplifting," he said. "Sadly people are just trying to make ends meet."

As for Gov. Kate Brown's order directing Oregonians to stay home under most circumstances, Wurpes said that it's vague and mostly not enforceable. However, he said Wilsonville police would break up large gatherings and enforce the directed closure of certain businesses.

"The last thing we want to do is give people the sense that this is some kind of military state because it's not but conversely we want to do our part to keep people safe and not overrun hospitals," Wurpes said.

Overall, Wurpes recommended community unity through these trying times.

"Wilsonville is a great community. I think we'll get through this gracefully. All of us have to be patient. We'll see what happens but we should try to do this well, safely and together," Wurpes said.

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