COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – The leading cause of death for law enforcement officers in the United States is not gun violence or traffic collisions.
According to a CBS study, 716 officers have died from COVID since March of 2020. That’s why the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department is taking every step possible to protect its deputies.
“We’ve had one death,” says Sheriff Eddie Hawkins. “She was exposed and found out she was exposed and didn’t come in the facility. Later, she ended up dying in the hospital because of COVID. ”
Sheriff Hawkins says even one death is too many when it comes to the men and women who make up his staff. So protecting them from the virus is among his chief concerns.
“This virus has ran through my department,” he says. “My staff, who are normal citizens who work at the jail facility or work out in the community, they come in contact with people who are exposed.”
Sheriff Hawkins says the pandemic has completely changed how they do things, from responding to more calls over the phone, to issuing more citations and fewer arrests for misdemeanors.
“It’s not that we don’t want to respond and take care of the problem at hand,” he says. “But we’re trying to protect the deputies that are out here, interacting with the public on a day-to-day basis.”
While training on the firing range prepares officers and deputies to deal with an armed suspect, learning about the spread of bacteria and vaccinations can protect them from even greater risk.
“COVID seems to be our biggest threat right now,” says Mark Bailey, chief of police at Jefferson State Community College in Alabama. “And if you notice, we were doing an exercise where they were working with decontamination. And you saw how easy it is for somebody to get something on them. ”
Chief Bailey is leading an advanced in-service training course for Lowndes County Sheriff’s deputies from October 11 to October 15. It includes learning to protect themselves from the hazards they could be exposed to at a crime scene.
“Whether it’s COVID, hepatitis or anything else,” Chief Bailey says.
Exercises demonstrated just how easy it is to transfer bacteria from one person to another and how effective something as simple as washing one’s hands can be.
“What we used in our exercise was something that simulates bacteria that will actually glow when exposed to UV light source,” he said.
But as much as all those precautions can help, both Chief Bailey and Sheriff Hawkins say they are no substitute for the vaccine.
“I can’t emphasize this enough, if you’re not vaccinated get vaccinated,” Chief Bailey says. “You got to understand how deadly this virus is.”
Sheriff Hawkins says his staff is currently about 80 percent vaccinated.
“This is something that we can (all) do personally to help our neighbors and our friends,” he says.
That includes local law enforcement.