by Dennis Dalman
These days, the streets, sidewalks and parks of Sartell are sometimes eerily quiet, free of vehicles and pedestrians, said Sartell Police Chief Jim Hughes.
It’s because of the widespread stay-at-home isolation caused by the coronavirus crisis.
But then, at other times, people are on the go, driving here or there, he added. Daytime and afternoon arrests for driving while intoxicated have increased somewhat, Hughes noted, adding some stressed people might drink at home and then decide to go for a drive just to get away for awhile.
“I think that’s because everybody gets tired of being cooped up,” Hughes speculated. “Irritability increases. People feel they need to get out, they want to get out. It’s stressful for a lot of people – parents and kids.”
Hughes said he and his contingent of 21 full-time officers are “doing well” and have plenty of protective gear, such as professional-grade face masks and even body suits if needed. From their extensive training and experiences, they have learned how to take precautions in crisis situations. In 2009, during another virus alert, Hughes and officers had practice training sessions. That was the time of the so-called swine flu in which many people in the world became very sick or died as a result of that particular virus.
Hughes and the officers have adapted to doing a lot of their work over the phone. When people call, the police department can give them fact-based advice, updates and the ways to succeed in social-distancing and/or at-home isolation.
The department also is made aware of social gatherings that are not allowed under orders from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. Hughes said he, officers, the clerical staff or dispatcher often learn of such complaints indirectly, only via postings on Facebook or via other forms of social media. Thus, there is a lag time in responding to concerns about people gathering in groups.
“We would rather have people call us right away with those concerns (so officers can respond right away),” said Hughes. “I’m happy people are taking this (virus crisis) seriously. People do understand why we do what we do. It’s important when there’s a problem that they reach out to us in a timely manner and give us specifics. In some cases, people might be over-reacting, and we like to educate the public.”
The Hughes family, too, practices social-distancing, including three of his grown children working from their homes. One daughter, who is 19, moved back home from Winona State University, where she is studying accounting and business. Like almost every student in the state, she is now participating in distance learning from the university.
Hughes said reaching out to others, even in a situation of social distancing, is vital for everyone to get through the current crisis.
“We don’t know what every family is going through,” he said. “People should keep that in mind when they see people (or become aware of people) who might need a little extra help but are hesitant to ask for it.”
For an example, Hughes cited elderly neighbors who have not been seen outdoors.
“Those who are concerned should call us,” he said. “We could do a welfare check, and we’d be happy to do that.”
In the meantime, the police chief strongly recommends everyone keep doing social distancing as much as possible.
“Take a deep breath,” he said. “And know this will be over with. We’ll all get through this the best we can.”