One adjustment local departments are making in response to coronavirus involves engagement with citizens as it pertains to traffic stops and arrests.
On March 14, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez sent a memo to area police departments requesting at this time that local officers be mindful of Travis County jail population.
“As important as it is to keep our staff safe, it is equally important for me to make every effort to keep this virus out of the jail,” Hernandez said in her letter. “An infection within the confines of our facility could prove catastrophic.”
Bee Cave Police Chief Gary Miller said his department has emailed officers reminding them to stay a proper distance away from citizens when possible, and his department is following the guidelines issued by the Travis County Sheriff's Office.
“The [Travis County] jail has asked us because of their concerns about coronavirus being spread at the jail to limit the arrests that are made to serious offenses,” Miller said. “So ... pretty much with misdemeanor offenses, we will just cite and release unless [we determine] there will be a danger [in not making an arrest].”
Miller said traffic enforcement in Bee Cave is still ongoing, but officers are engaging in stopping motorists conducting what he called more dangerous driving behaviors, more or less.
“Less serious [traffic] offenses, we’re just kind of having to back off of those for right now,” he said.
The West Lake Hills Police Department is also adopting policies that reduce arrests and ease off traffic citations.
Scott Gerdes, West Lake Hills police chief, said until further notice his officers will not conduct traffic enforcement unless it is absolutely necessary, and regarding Hernandez’s memo, West Lake Hills police officers will not arrest people unless it is required by statute or absolutely necessary at the moment.
In Rollingwood, Police Chief Jason Brady said his department is continuing to arrest those who pose a danger to the public or any person, and the Rollingwood Police Department will not close on account of the pandemic and continue to serve and protect the community.
With regard to arrests, Brady said his department has already been in the practice of citing in lieu of arrest when allowed by law. Several legislative sessions ago, he said, Texas included a number of Class B offenses in addition to the Class C offenses officers can cite for.
“We appreciate that Travis County Sheriff Hernandez has to consider the health and wellbeing of thousands of inmates and jail staff,” Brady said via email. “RPD will continue to be judicious when deciding when to make custodial arrests, as we have always.”
Brady said proactive patrols of residential and business areas will continue, and officers will remain highly visible in Rollingwood and ready to respond.
The most noticeable changes for RPD will involve less unnecessary face-to-face contact, Brady said.
“To protect our officers and to mitigate the opportunity to unknowingly carry a virus to our most vulnerable population, we are following recommended social distancing practices,” he said. “We will conduct as much business over the phone as possible to include taking nonpriority reports and check in on the welfare [of] our residents who may need assistance during these challenging times.”