For the University Police Department at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, personal protection equipment (PPE) is now an official part of the uniform. Wearing masks, social distancing and cleaning their vehicles after each use are some of the ways university police officers are protecting the campus – and each other.
“It is our mission to provide a safer learning and working environment on the campus,” Assistant Police Chief Roger Stearns wrote in an email to the Mesquite on Sept. 22. “A safer environment reduces anxiety and allows people to better focus on their academic and professional endeavors.
University police follow COVID-19 safety guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Stearns said.
According to the CDC website, when possible, law enforcement should maintain a distance of 6 feet and wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, they should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
“Officers are wearing masks and have disposable nitrile gloves and safety glasses with side protection if close physical contact needs to occur,” Stearns wrote in an email to the Mesquite on Sept. 3. “In any encounter officers are encouraged to maintain social distancing of 6 feet when possible. Officers are [also] provided cleaning supplies to disinfect their equipment and workspace in between use, such as their duty gear, patrol car, conference room and interview rooms.”
Stearns says that while it has not been a major inconvenience to his day-to-day operations, there are challenges. He explained how following pandemic safety guidelines helps to keep the community and law enforcement safe.
“Whether it’s on campus or off-campus, the challenge is the same,” Stearns wrote in the Sept. 3 email. “Shift briefings have been held outside with social distancing, and officers spend time cleaning the vehicle or workspace between use. Maintaining vigilance with social distancing, wearing masks and other PPE, handwashing, and sanitizing high touch surfaces are important ways we can reduce the risk of contracting the virus, and the reduce the risk of taking it home to our families.”
The pandemic is not only affecting operations at A&M-San Antonio, but the Southside ranks 16th in a list of 20 COVID-19 hotspots by ZIP code. According to mySA.com, “as of Aug. 11, 839 cumulative cases were reported in the 78224 area.”
To help limit the spread of the virus, campus officers around the city are taking the necessary safety precautions.
Joe Pabon, Alamo Colleges District deputy chief of police, also reports that Palo Alto College is adhering to the COVID-19 safety guidelines from the CDC. He adds that the use of personal protective equipment is imperative to containing the virus.
“The Alamo Colleges District Police Department follows current CDC guidelines when in contact with the public,” Pabon wrote in an email. “Officers will wear a mask and gloves and maintain social distance when needed and persons taken into custody will be fitted with a mask when it is safe to do so.”
Despite having limited interactions with the community since the pandemic began, safety remains the No.1 priority and the UPD remains committed to “serving with a strong community-oriented policing philosophy,” Stearns said.