BOONE — Boone Police stated that citizens can opt to not have police respond to minor traffic accidents without injuries as part of a change to public safety operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The town of Boone released a statement on March 16 that explained that police would still respond to most matters, but not minor traffic accidents. Boone Police Capt. Andy Le Beau clarified the following day that citizens can elect to not call police and exchange insurance and license information to limit face-to-face contact — a practice some people already do in the case of minor accidents in parking lots or other incidents without major damage, he said.
"Individuals should exchange insurance and license information and clear the road as quickly as possible," the town of Boone statement said. "The (Boone) Police Department will continue to respond to life-saving emergencies, serious crimes in progress, crimes against persons, death investigations and other calls for service."
However, people are required to call for police assistance in the case of a reportable accident involving more than $1,000 in damages, personal injury or death and DWI, Le Beau said. If none of these aspects apply, Le Beau said the public can still request police response if guidance or other assistance is needed.
The changes follow Chief Dana Crawford's statement earlier in the day that enacted the department's COVID-19 response protocol. The protocol is designed to create internal safety measures to protect employee health that will affect how Boone Police interacts with the public.
The department stated that it understands that as first responders they are on the "front lines" and could be exposed to COVID-19. Boone Police added that it largely employs a young, healthy police force who would be "unlikely to suffer more than mild symptoms" if exposed.
"Our concern is that we may pass along the virus to the elderly or those with compromised immune systems," police stated. "We want to make sure the public knows how we will respond and why this protocol has been enacted."
As a general rule, the department said Boone Police officers will not respond to medical calls unless there is a specific need. Often police will respond to medical calls to potentially assist Watauga Medics and Boone Fire.
"These two organizations have far more medical training than our police officers," Boone Police stated. "Police will respond if requested by medic or fire personnel."
In the town of Boone statement sent later on March 16, Boone Town Manager John Ward said that the Boone Fire Department has limited sending multiple units to medical calls.
Calls for service will be assessed to determine if an officer response is necessary or if a report may be taken over the phone to avoid personal contact, according to the department. Even if an initial report is taken by phone, Boone Police stated it will still conduct an investigation. Officers will respond if there is any threat or possibility of violence, any physical evidence to process or collect or if it is determined that a telephone report is unacceptable to the reporting person.
"We do not intend for the quality of our police service to suffer," Boone Police stated.
Boone Police Capt. Andy Le Beau said he and Crawford thanked the dedicated police officers and 911 operators who "stand ready to carry out our mission." He added that the department will take all available precautions and provide officers with all of the available personal protection equipment that they can obtain.
"We appreciate the Boone community and hope that we can all pull together as a community even though we need to make all efforts to stay apart until this virus runs its course," Le Beau said.
Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said in a March 16 statement to "law enforcement partners" that several protocols have been implemented in the county's jail in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As you know, the jail is one of the highest liability areas that any sheriff faces," Hagaman said.
The release stated that a protocol is in place if an inmate becomes ill with a communicable disease. Major Kelly Redmon said the protocol — which already occurs with sick inmates — includes medical testing, observation and quarantine.
All chaplain services and face-to-face attorney visits are suspended with limitations, Hagaman's memo stated. Redmon clarified that chaplain services would be allowed in the case of a death of an inmate’s immediate family. The chaplain would be asked to answer supplemental questions and have their temperature checked prior to being allowed entry, Redmon said.
Inmates can have access to attorneys via a visitation kiosk on a private phone and will not have face-to-face meetings, Redmon said.
Weekend sentences and 24-hour holds are suspended until further notice, and Watauga County Sheriff's Office is not accepting any inmate transfers from other counties. Redmon said that a 24-hour hold is a provision that allows officers to take an individual into custody who may be intoxicated and has no home of record or no other safe secure place to be. There is no criminal charge for this type of custody, Redmon said.
Redmon clarified that a 24-hour hold does not include those with domestic violence charges. A defendant given a charge of assault as a result of domestic violence can be held up to 48 hours without a bond, and then has a bond set by a district court judge.
"I would respectfully ask that, whenever possible, if your officers should have to take law enforcement action, that a citation is the preferred method during the next month," Hagaman said. "If an arrest is made, I request that your officers take note of the general health of the arrestee and upon presentation to the Watauga County Jail, notify a detention officer immediately of any concerns."
Citizens who request information about COVID-19 are being referred to AppHealthCare at apphealthcare.com or at (828) 264-4995.