Police face even more peril during pandemic

May 17, 2020

This article was originally published in the Scranton Sunday Times-Tribune on May 17, 2020.

By Mark Powell
Lackawanna County District Attorney

Every day when a police officer suits up for duty, they have no idea what they may encounter, whether they will be injured or killed, or whether they will ever see their loved ones again. Their families live with the constant worry that they might not come home. Serving as a police officer requires an uncommon sense of duty and courage.

Now, in the age of COVID-19, law enforcement officers face even more danger and uncertainty as an unseen assailant – the novel coronavirus – lurks in the background of every call, every traffic stop and every encounter with the public. Since the pandemic began, dozens of officers across the country have died from COVID-19. As we observe National Police Week, we recognize our brave men and women in blue who report for duty day in and day out to keep our communities safe. We remember the fallen and honor those who serve.

In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the calendar week that concluded on Saturday as National Police Week. Established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962, National Police Week pays special recognition to law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.

Serving as Lackawanna County’s chief law enforcement officer has given me a front-row seat to the incredible efforts of our county detectives, municipal police officers and state troopers – the selfless courage, compassion for victims, nonstop work ethic and great police work that makes it possible for prosecutors to put criminals behind bars. While I often stand in the limelight outside the courthouse, the true unsung heroes of our criminal justice system are the men and women behind the badge.

That’s why, when we learned of a shortage of personal protective equipment for our frontline officers a few weeks ago, the district attorney’s office pulled out all the stops to get them the supplies they needed. First Assistant District Attorney Judy Price sourced masks, gloves, protective suits and other gear to keep our police officers and detectives safe during the pandemic. To date, our office has purchased and distributed 4,000 N95 respirator masks, 500 K95 masks, 4,000 pairs of heavy rubber gloves, 500 MicroMax coveralls, 30 specialized tactical respirator masks for SWAT teams and gallons of hand sanitizer. We have also secured more personal protective equipment using a $58,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice so we can continue to replenish and distribute these supplies.

Thanks to the tireless and courageous efforts of our police officers, citizens of Lackawanna County can rest assured that law and order is being maintained during the pandemic. Just this week, for example, county detectives and the Scranton Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit, as part of an ongoing investigation into gang-related activity, arrested a man who allegedly trafficked in illegal firearms, supplying deadly semiautomatic weapons to convicted felons who can’t buy them legally. One weapon found in his residence was reportedly used in a recent shooting in the city.

Across Lackawanna County, law enforcement is working at full capacity to keep our communities safe. Our frontline officers also continue responding every day to domestic incidents, which have increased during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, the trend parallels a significant increase in the use of alcohol and drugs. The isolation and stay-at-home orders resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, coupled with increased substance abuse, has created a toxic environment for domestic violence.

If you need to report an emergency or you are the victim of a crime, please do not hesitate to call 911. Police will respond. On the other hand, if your neighbor’s dog is barking or he’s running his lawn mower after 8 p.m., please exercise some patience and tolerance. Those kinds of calls take police away from higher law enforcement priorities and potentially expose them and their families to infection. Please respect their dedication and sacrifice during this difficult time.

To all the police officers who put their lives on the line day in and day out, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, we salute your bravery, dedication and commitment to keeping our communities safe. Thank you for your service and please stay safe.