By Rick Wyffels, Alexandria Police Chief
Policing in a pandemic. In my nearly 40 years in law enforcement, I don’t know that it’s something that I gave much thought to. Of course, we have always considered the threat of tornadoes and other natural disasters, but the idea of a virus invading our country and our community just didn’t seem like it was going to be part of my career.
But here we are; social distancing has become the new buzzword. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become among the most sought-after gear on the market for those of us that have been deemed “essential” by the governor’s executive order. Face-to-face large group meetings have been replaced with virtual meetings held online. These are certainly strange new times that we are living in and the ripple effect will likely change the way our society looks and functions in the coming years.
I want the citizens of our community to know that the Alexandria Police Department remains committed to providing a high level of service to our community, even if that service looks a bit differently sometimes. An officer in the community that keeps their distance from you during a conversation is only doing so in an effort to protect both you and themselves. We are doing our very best to be good citizens and work to “flatten the curve,” another new buzzword, just like the rest of our community is. Our officers will continue to carry out the portion of our mission statement that refers to providing police service beyond expectations. We are all adjusting to our new environments and new ways of life; a level of grace and understanding is absolutely essential for all of us. Let’s try and remember that we are all in this together.
What hasn’t changed is law enforcement doing its job. Citizens in our community, unfortunately, still commit crimes and it is the role of law enforcement to hold those individuals accountable and take appropriate enforcement action. A virus does not give society the ability to disregard the rule of law and the Alexandria Police Department is certainly not “closed.”
An important distinction to note is that we as law enforcement are also not able to give permission for many of the things discussed in the various executive orders that have been issued by Gov. Walz. My office has fielded numerous calls from our community in the last several weeks asking about possible exceptions to the executive order. We, as law enforcement, do not have the authority to circumvent the rules and offer special permission for large groups to meet or specific businesses to open, for example. Police officers are law enforcement, not legislators. This means we enforce the laws, but we don’t make them.
I encourage all of you to continue to try and do your part to help stop the spread of COVID-19. I have been and continue to be amazed at how our community can come together in the face of a crisis. Stay healthy and be well!
Rick Wyffels is the Alexandria police chief. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.