The shelter-in-place order Gov. JB Pritzker issued last week to limit the spread of the coronavirus has many more people working from home and less work for police in McLean County.
Police calls are down in Bloomington-Normal in recent days, but officers wonder if this is the calm before the storm.
The police chief in Normal, Rick Bleichner, said his officers filed 20 reports last Friday, the last day before the governor's order. Twenty is already a low number. On Monday, his officers took just seven reports.
“What they have described is it’s almost like a Christmas day out there sometimes,” Bleichner said. “When people are home, there are not as many calls for service. I can tell you the reports have dropped off significantly.”
Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath said his department has also seen a noticeable drop in calls in recent weeks. Donath said he might consider cutting back on shifts to keep his officers rested and ready in case in case any on the force need to be quarantined, but knows he has to be careful with that.
“That would be a smart thing to do, but you have to balance that with if we get a double or triple homicide like we had two years ago, then we’ve got to make sure we have enough people to be able to handle that,” Donath said.
Police also suspect the drop in calls might not last long. McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage said he's concerned the COVID-19 response could lead to economic hardships -- and that often leads to a rise in crime.
“We have discussed that, typically when economies are bad, crime does go up, but we are prepared should that happen,” Sandage said.
Also, having everyone cooped up at home poses its own public safety concern. Donath noticed a rash of domestic violence incidents late last week following the governor's stay-at-home order. He hopes that doesn't become a trend.
“It just seems to go hand-in-hand with people working from home, staying at home, then the shelter-in-place order came into play,” Donath said.
As people are forced to stay in their homes longer, many will also be tempted to go outside and challenge the order.
Bleichner said he expects more people will insist on going out if the shutdown order lasts for more than a few weeks.
“Right now this is a lull, everyone is playing well together, but if it continues I think there may be a concern that there may be folks who want to try and travel outside the restrictions and try to go to businesses when it’s not necessary or critical,” Bleichner said. “Those may be some things where we could see an additional call spike.”
Bleichner said officers are responding to stay-at-home violations on a complaint basis. He said his officers are focused on education and compliance but could issue a cease and desist order if someone refused to comply.
Bloomington, Normal and McLean County police say they have all the protective gear they need, including masks, gloves and eyewear, but they are trying to limit their contact with the public so they won't need them often. That includes taking reports by phone and making fewer arrests for low-level misdemeanors and traffic offenses.
Police instead are issuing I-Bonds where the defendant promises they will appear in court or are referring cases to the McLean County state's attorney's office.
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