COVID-19 has pushed North Texas police departments to get creative to keep both residents and officers safe.
Looking toward the future, for many departments, it will become a balancing act of budgets, manpower and enhanced safety measures.
“As a chief of police, I don’t know everything. As a department, we don’t know everything. So, it is very easy to look at best practices across the country,” Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon said.
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During the COVID-19 crisis, Dixon started using a “teleserve” system which is basically a call triage system with the department handling many nonemergency calls by phone.
“We had the luxury of having our school resource officers since they were out. So, we had them staffing the teleserve function,” Dixon said. “We are going to keep [teleserve] full time. If we can free up our police officers on the street so they are not running call to call to call and taking report after report they can get out of their cars and talk to people.”
Denton Police took a very aggressive approach to officer safety.
“I’m very happy to report that we have not had one employee of the Denton Police Department test positive for COVID. So, we’ve been very blessed in that sense,” Dixon said.
City budgets will get tighter in the next fiscal year keeping police departments across the country looking at the bottom line.
“I’m really proud of our city management team. They have taken a very proactive approach to try to put money back in our budget,” Dixon said. “We’re going to have to look at the next year and shave off what we can. I think the most important thing we have to keep focus on is doing less with more and being creative and not using it as an excuse of not keeping our city safe.”
“Public safety will be able to hire for vacancies, so we are not under a hiring freeze for public safety although a number of other departments within the city are,” Dixon added.
Domestic violence numbers have started rising even though they initially went down.
“I can tell you in the last month, they have taken a severe turn upwards,” Dixon said. “You’re starting to see layoffs and furloughs and things of that nature happening, but just the fact that people are together 24 hours a day over this long period of time. You add all the other stressors.”
Denton police are working with local agencies to help victims get needed resources.
“A lot of these situations were ongoing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are just being exacerbated because men and women don’t have the ability to disconnect from each other,” Dixon said.
As Texas starts to reopen, Dixon has noticed trends in calls for service.
“We’ve seen a slight decline in 911 calls for service in the last week, but [calls] had gone up about 300% or more a week for the proceeding weeks, so I can see us getting busier,” Dixon said. “You can look on the roadways. People are out moving around.”
Dixon said protective measures will remain in place for some time.
“Until the city is kind of back to our new normal, whatever that is, because the last thing that I want is for us relax to early, start celebrating our victory and then look up and have 10 officers have tested positive and then we’re back at square one,” Dixon said.