Police officers always have encountered danger they can see, such as a person with a gun or a high-speed pursuit.

Now officers face a danger every day that can't be seen: the COVID-19 coronavirus.

New policy and protocols are in place at every turn to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In Hilliard, those include the public closure of all police buildings but a small, 24-hour lobby at the Joint Safety Services Building on Northwest Parkway; changes in how officers interact with residents when on a call; encouraging online filing of reports; and regular disinfecting of police cruisers.

Most of the daily protocols have been fine-tuned in the last three weeks, Hilliard Division of Police Chief Robert Fisher said, since the state issued a stay-at-home order March 22 through April 6 that later was extended to May 1.

"We had a general infectious-disease protocol that laid the foundation for response, but (Norwich Township Fire Department) Chief (Jeff) Warren and I worked on the policy we have in place," Fisher said.

Those policies include disinfecting the interior of each cruiser between each eight-hour shift change.

Officer Ron Burkitt, after completing a morning shift, said he uses a solution of bleach and water to wipe down the interior of his cruiser, including front and rear door handles on the inside and outside, as well as the steering wheel, gearshift and computer terminal.

"Each day, at the beginning and ending, we spray down the inside of the car," Burkitt said.

Officers also are employing adjusted protocols and procedures on the street, Fisher said.

Dispatchers at the Northwest Regional Emergency Communications Center screen callers to ascertain whether anyone in a household was or is exhibiting any symptoms of an infection so responding officers know before they arrive, Fisher said.

Police are encouraging people, whenever possible, to file a report by telephone or use the department's online filing system, especially for incidents of petty theft, telephone harassment or other misdemeanors, he said.

Still, police will encounter people on the street and on calls.

In those cases, Fisher said, "we maintain social distancing, too, and will typically ask people to step outside and stand 6 feet apart."

But those instances are declining as the pandemic reaches a period of a full month, Fisher said.

"Our call volume is down," he said.

During the second week of April, police received 568 calls for service, down from 643 calls for service the previous week, Fisher said.

Crime trends also have changed in the past month, Fisher said.

"We have seen an uptick in instances of domestic violence," he said.

Such reports include violence or threats of violence among family members and are not limited to spouses, Fisher said.

He acknowledged some of the incidents could stem from juvenile siblings home from school, exacerbated by the inability to leave a house because of the stay-at-home order.

By contrast, crimes of violence, such as robbery and assault, "are almost nonexistent."

Police took no such reports in two of the first three weeks of April, Fisher said.

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