Law enforcement officers can’t always keep a safe social distance on the job

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Law enforcement agencies in Travis County tell KXAN they’re working to stop the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.

Both the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and the Austin Police Department tell KXAN that due to the nature of the job, sometimes officers and deputies can’t maintain a six-foot when responding to calls and crime scenes. However, in other cases, supervisors are watching and reminding their teams not to get too close when the job allows for more distancing.

“When we start working and we’re with our coworkers in these situations, our natural tendency is kind of to gravitate toward each other, especially when we want to talk about something that we don’t want people around us to hear or we’re trying to be quiet or any number of situations, and that muscle memory takes effect,” said Kristen Dark, spokesperson for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.

Dark says to help, TCSO is sending the minimal number of deputies and other personnel needed to crime scenes.

In addition, those being trained, who would usually go along, aren’t allowed to go to those scenes during the outbreak.

On Saturday, APD mandated that all its officers on the frontline wear masks. Those working in offices or other secluded workspaces are not required to wear masks. APD has provided each officer working in public with four disposable masks, to be used in a rotation.

“There is a way that you will wear these, but then you will store them in a dry place so that you can wear them again days later,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told officers in a video on Saturday, when he mandated that they wear the masks.

Manley says APD is working to secure more masks.

TSCO says it has not mandated that deputies and corrections officers wear masks, because it does not have enough to provide masks for all employees and inmates. Currently, deputies working in the field can wear masks they can provide on their own.

Dark says the sheriff’s office is working to secure masks, but it needs thousands to cover all its employees and inmates.

Currently, inmate workers have been tasked with sewing cloth masks. Those masks will be worn by inmates and TCSO employees.

“One of the approaches, one of the innovations we’ve come up with is making them ourselves, Dark said. “We have a bunch of sewing machines that have been put in an area of the jail and inmate workers are in the process of making masks for our agency. They’re using surplus inmate uniforms, as well as donated fabric. And, as those masks are completed and come online, we’ll hand those out where they’re most needed first.”

While the governor announced Monday that the state has a good supply of masks and other personal protective equipment, it’s important to note that medical facilities and health care workers are being prioritized. Therefore, local law enforcement is looking to some other sources for masks.

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