Entrance way set up to screen and serve those who enter the police department to limit spread of Covid-19. Courtesy of Knox Police Department

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — They are 373 strong, serving 24/7. Their primary focus is proactive policing and crime prevention. They, and all the other police operations around the nation, are “boots on the ground.” In the city of Knoxville, they serve under the strong direction of Police Chief Eve Thomas and despite the Covid-19 crisis, their objective to protect and to serve has not wavered. 

A candid conversation with Public Relations Officer Scott Erland answered questions about the other side of the badge: that of the life of that officer who everyone expects to show up when they call 911. What does their life look like now in the midst of this pandemic? Here is our conversation:

Shipe: Mr. Erland, how many officers work for the Knoxville Police Department? Erland: “373 officers, which includes a new class of recruits who graduated in December of 2019.”

Shipe: How has the approach to arrest someone changed as far as Covid-19?  Erland: “We are still holding all arrested accountable. Felons and persons of danger are still being arrested. Depending on the situation, others may receive pretrial release and citations to court.”

Shipe: How has the arrest procedure changed? Erland:“ The 911 dispatchers are asking screening questions as recommended by the health department about fevers, travel out the country, and if exhibiting any symptoms. The disease is spread rapidly and easily by contact so our officers carry PPE (personal protective equipment) in their cars which include masks and gloves and a protective apron should they be needed.”

Shipe: What about the sanitation of the police cars? Erland: “The cars are cleaned with a bleach solution and we follow the CDC recommendations for law enforcement.”

Shipe: How are your supplies holding up? Got enough gloves and masks? Erland: “We are okay at the moment.”

Shipe: What does roll call look like now? Erland: “Roll call is held outside, we stay six feet apart.”

Shipe: What about the protection of the officers and their families? Erland: “Officers are self monitoring. They are told to be responsible and to stay home if sick, to report any illness to their supervisors and they are not being penalized for doing so.” 

Shipe: Lets talk about mental health. What procedures are in place to help the officers during this period and what about the mentally ill that may be arrested? Erland: “Support teams are already in place, officers are urged to talk it out after incidents, and we have a robust chaplain squad. Concerning the mentally ill, the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center is being utilized on a regular basis.”

Shipe: What should the public be doing at this moment and how is the department interacting with the public? Erland: “Stay Home. Follow the CDC and Health Department guidelines. We are monitoring all calls and trying to make the public aware even as we limit contact with the public. We are handling calls remotely as needed.”

Shipe: Anything you want to add as we end this conversation? Erland: “Our goal is to continue to provide the services the city expects and deserves. We ask everyone to be mindful. Our job is to protect and serve the citizens and our officers. We will continue to do our job, we are just doing it a little bit differently right now.”