Ohio cities mull sharing police, fire resources if COVID-19 spreads

The goal is to have a plan for a worst-case scenario where one city's police officers or firefighters are forced to self-isolate and cannot work


By Evan MacDonald
Advance Ohio Media

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Leaders of several Cleveland suburbs are making plans that could see them share police officers and firefighters in the event of a coronavirus outbreak in their departments.

Officials from Lyndhurst, Richmond Heights, Highland Heights, Mayfield Heights and Mayfield Village met Friday in Lyndhurst for a preliminary discussion about sharing resources if a coronavirus outbreak impacts them. The goal is to have a plan for a worst-case scenario where one city's police officers or firefighters are forced to self-isolate and cannot work, Lyndhurst Mayor Patrick Ward said Monday.

Firefighter Garry Helm displays a helmet shield meant to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Image: Joe Difazio/The Patriot Ledger
Firefighter Garry Helm displays a helmet shield meant to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Image: Joe Difazio/The Patriot Ledger

We are confident but cautious," Ward said. "We're confident we're going to get through this but cautious by assuring we're making all the plans we need to make."

The five suburbs are already partners through their existing cooperative agreement the Suburban Police Anti-Crime Network, with each providing resources to collaboratives including a regional SWAT team and bomb squad. The exiting mutual-aid agreement made the five suburbs natural allies in planning for a coronavirus outbreak, Ward said.

Police and fire departments are still working to finalize those plans. Police departments could expand the area that their officers cover and prioritize emergency calls over routine road patrol. Firefighters could see temporary reassignment to another community that is short-staffed.

We have to look outside the box a little bit during times like this," Mayfield Heights Fire Chief Bruce Elliott said.

State law allows Ohio police department to share resources through mutual aid agreements. Those agreements enable sister agencies to patrol another city's streets in exigent circumstances, such as a funeral for a fallen officer where the rest of the apartment may be attending the service, Ohio Attorney General's Office spokesman Dave O'Neil said.

Police, firefighters and EMS are already taking necessary precautions such as routinely washing their hands and disinfecting their equipment. Elliott said his city's EMS workers are wearing protective equipment whenever they encounter a patient with flu-like symptoms.

South Euclid was not part of the Friday meeting in Lyndhurst, but the city's police chief said his department discussed the coronavirus crisis internally. They would most likely have officers switch to 12-hour shifts, rather than typical eight-hour shifts, if an outbreak caused a temporary reduction in staff.

Relying on other agencies to assist would also be a possibility, but Nietert said it would be a "last resort."

"We're going to do what we have to do to make it work," he said.

South Euclid police are being encouraged to limit arrests for the time being to limit the chance of exposure to the coronavirus. Officers will arrest anyone accused of domestic violence or a violent felony, but are encouraged to write citations and issue court summons for non-violent offenses, Nietert said.

It really is a difficult situation," he said. "Because it's constantly evolving, you have to flexible and willing to change."

Ward said the coronavirus crisis is changing "minute-to-minute," so communities and their public safety agencies need to prepare. They cannot stop responding to emergencies if an outbreak hits their ranks, he said.

"It could come to a point where we need to act quickly, so we need to have those plans," he said.

(c)2020 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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