Police cars/station

The Rantoul police station is shown. Police Chief Tony Brown said the number of calls/cases has dropped by about 50 percent since fears over COVID-19 surfaced in the state.

RANTOUL — Rantoul police have seen their calls and arrests drop substantially in the approximately two weeks since the threat of COVID-19 became more pronounced in this country.

“We have, to this point, seen a reduction in calls for service,” said Police Chief Tony Brown, who estimated incidents were down about 50 percent.

The reason: “Just because people are staying inside,” he said.

An added twist was Gov. JB Pritzer’s stay-in-place order that begin Saturday.

“If we have to deal with someone violating this order, we will seek voluntary compliance,” Brown said.

Despite people spending longer periods together indoors when cabin fever and monotony can mount, Rantoul police, to date, have not seen an increase in domestic incidents.

“I don’t think we’ve seen that at all,” Brown said.

This new world has meant a change in procedures for law enforcement.

Brown said Rantoul police have adjusted to how they are responding to calls for service.

“Any high-priority (calls), we’ll continue to handle if someone’s being threatened or in danger; or if there is a crime in progress, we’ll still respond as normal,” Brown said. “If we have lesser-priority calls ... we’ll try to handle most of those over the phone to limit exposure.”

An example would include a theft report with no suspect information.

“On other calls, if we feel like we need to meet in person, we’ve instructed our officers to come outside and talk to them in the open air instead of entering the home,” Brown said.

“If someone wants to speak with an officer or they need to make a report, we’re there to help them.”

Brown said investigators are also being encouraged to do as much of their work by phone, rather than in person, “rather than risking exposure.”

Brown said the public has been understanding.

Contact has also been altered internally. At the beginning of shifts, officers are no longer briefed in large groups. Rather, those briefings take place in smaller groups or one-on-one.

In the past, officers were briefed in the conference room “and information would be shared with them — shift assignments, followup information, reports that maybe have come in during the previous evening since they worked,” Brown said.

Access to the police station has also been more restricted. The front door is locked, and the public is able to use a telephone at the front to communicate with personnel, at which point it will be determined if they need to speak with an officer. In that case, they can do so outdoors or in the front lobby, not in an office setting.

The finger-printing service — available to the public in the past when applying for jobs or other purposes — has also been suspended.

Individuals from throughout the area comprise the department. Brown said no one has missed work due to the virus.

The changes haven’t meant a reduction of patrols. That continues as it has in the past.

The Center for Disease Control is also recommending use of an N95 mask if it is necessary to transport a prisoner.

METCAD is also screening calls and asking callers if they are exhibiting any symptoms. That information is then relayed to officers responding to calls.

“If they’re at higher risk, the officer might ask them to put on a mask,” Brown said.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com