What you need to know: Lawrence-area law enforcement shares latest updates amid COVID-19 pandemic

photo by: Journal-World File Photos

These Journal-World file photos show patrol vehicles for the Lawrence Police Department (top) and Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

The Lawrence Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office are responding to calls for service with phone calls whenever they can in order to help “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both agencies have made some changes to procedures in recent days, and there may be more to come as guidance from public health officials becomes more stringent.

Lawrence Police Department spokesman Patrick Compton said LPD is evaluating calls for police service to determine if help can be rendered telephonically. Nonemergency calls should go to dispatch at 785-832-7509.

“We’re doing this for the safety of our officers and the community,” Compton said via email Thursday. “This doesn’t change true emergencies and we still encourage citizens to call 911, and we will respond appropriately.”

Jenn Hethcoat, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said deputies are doing the same.

However, in an age-old scam making the rounds again, scammers are pretending to be deputies and telling people they need to pay money immediately to resolve legal issues. No employee of the sheriff’s office will ever ask you for money over the phone for any reason, Hethcoat emphasized Thursday.

“This is a difficult time we are in and we are likely to see more individuals attempting to take advantage of your fear and anxiety,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post. “Please be cautious.”

If you receive a call and have questions about its validity, you should call the sheriff’s office at 785-841-0007, Hethcoat said.

More changes to note

Both departments are making a few other procedural changes in the name of public health.

As part of their duties, sheriff’s office deputies serve arrest warrants. Hethcoat said deputies will wear personal protective equipment when they are serving warrants in person, and anyone booked into the Douglas County Jail will be screened using the jail’s usual health screening as well as screening procedures recommended by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

If you do call 911 or come into contact with first responders in person, you should tell them or the dispatcher if you or anyone in your household is symptomatic so they can take the proper protective steps.

Don’t expect handshakes or “Junior Deputy” stickers for the time being, and law enforcement officers will try to keep a 6-foot distance during any interactions.

LPD is also suspending tours and ridealongs for now, according to a Facebook post on the department’s page. They also ask that you call ahead if you need to visit one of the police stations in person.

“In addition to the information we’re putting out on social media, we’d say just to be patient with first responders,” Compton said. “This is uncharted territory for all of us, and just like citizens, we’re working through it as best we can.”

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Chief Shaun Coffey told the Journal-World earlier this week that emergency dispatchers and medical personnel are asking additional questions when appropriate to determine whether someone seeking assistance has any COVID-19 symptoms — chief among them difficulty breathing, cough and fever, — or potential exposure.

Also, in Facebook posts this week, LDCFM noted that fire stations are currently closed to the public. LDCFM administration can be reached at 785-830-7000.

“And remember do NOT visit a fire station in person for an evaluation,” one post says. “This will not allow our firefighters to be protected with the proper equipment before they make contact with you.”

You can call the Douglas County Coronavirus line at 785-856-4343 or email COVID-19@ks.gov if you have questions or if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms of the illness. The county has also launched a website full of information — visit douglascountyks.org and click on “Coronavirus Response Hub.”

“What we are all experiencing is unprecedented and can be frightening but we don’t close; (we) will continue to be here for our community,” Hethcoat wrote Thursday.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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