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Editorial: Charleston police need our cooperation during coronavirus crisis

Coronavirus (copy)

Police Chief Luther Reynolds (left) explains how police will enforce Charleston's "stay at home" ordinance on Tuesday as Mayor John Tecklenburg asked for and got new restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brad Nettles/Staff

With Charleston now under a stay-home order for at least two weeks, police want and need the public’s help to weather the COVID-19 crisis. Let’s give it to them.

So far, officers have been coping well in these extraordinary times. Chief Luther Reynolds said officers are staying healthy, the department is sufficiently stocked with protective gear, and reports of crime are generally down. Those are all good signs.

Chief Reynolds said his core mission, as always, is to help keep people safe and especially now while public activities are restricted and all but essential businesses are closed under a citywide ordinance that took effect Thursday. He also said he wanted to thank Charlestonians for their cooperation and to urge them to look out for their neighbors, especially the elderly.

“That’s going to be the key to our success,” he said, adding that we will all have a role to play in the city’s recovery.

Mr. Reynolds is treading lightly but not timidly. You might not get a ticket for overstaying a parking meter on King Street, but police won’t turn a blind eye toward actions that could contribute to the spread of the virus or otherwise endanger the public. That’s the right approach.

“If people violate these orders … they’re taking public resources away from where they’re needed,” he said. He’s right, of course.

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His officers cited a downtown restaurant Sunday for violating the emergency order that forbids in-house dining, and a lieutenant dispersed a party of about 25 people on Daniel Island that included a band. On Saturday, with temperatures in the 80s, marine patrol officers broke up a gathering of boaters on a remote beach. But all those interactions were handled smoothly. Even the citation, he said, was mostly to put the restaurant on record and might be resolved without a fine if there were no further violations.

Mr. Reynolds said he saw no need for a curfew like in Columbia because most college students and other young people at loose ends are following rules and practicing social distancing. Certainly, people should be mindful about not making unnecessary work for officers over the next few weeks.

Like the rest of us, officers are doing their best to carry out their duties while applying commonsense precautions. Supervisors are deciding which calls require an in-person response and limiting them where possible. Officers are provided face masks and gloves for face-to-face interactions. But many low-level crime reports are being taken by phone, sometimes from a squad car parked just outside. Staffing hasn’t been a problem in part because so many operations are shut down — the City Market, the cruise terminal — and so many events have been canceled that some officers and civilian personnel have been freed from regular assignments.

As a safeguard, people who come to police stations have their temperature taken before they are allowed inside. But no police work is being putting aside, the chief said. Detectives are still working cases. All regular patrols are functioning normally. “We’re doing OK now,” he said. But he cautioned that he was well aware that “a large amount of people will get (the virus), and we don’t want to overwhelm the systems.”

Indeed. We all need to help conserve public resources to get through this crisis, and the easier we can make it on police, the easier they can make it for us.

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