BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With a good chunk of Fort Madison and other Lee County residents keeping to themselves as much as possible while the coronavirus blazes a path across the country, local law enforcement agencies are getting a bit of a breather…knock on wood.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said his department has seen a dramatic reduction in calls, which is allowing deputies to increase patrols and protection.
He said he thinks that’s due to several factors, but mostly because the pandemic is at the forefront of most decisions.
“Most people’s minds are on this pandemic going though our country and people are wising up,” Weber said.
“There’s more important things to worry about than the petty differences that we commonly see.”
Weber said on county roads he’s seen traffic reductions by as much as 80%, with the majority of traffic coming as usual through commutes. But he said as soon as people feel more comfortable as the virus eventually wanes, things will get back to normal.
He said the overnight patrols on some nights aren’t even getting calls for service, so they are able to patrol more.
“The protection level is higher right now, because they don’t have to respond to some of the calls they normally do,” Weber said.
“Everybody’s just doing what the governor and president have asked and that’s to use your head and be smart.”
Fort Madison Police Chief Mark Rohloff said activity levels are down, but that’s not uncommon for late winter and early spring.
“This type of year it typically does dip down, but when we started shutting down businesses and people got concerned about the pandemic, we saw our average calls dip even further,” Rohloff said.
“We we’re averaging about 38 calls per day, but the week after St. Patrick’s Day, when we closed all the restaurants and bars, in the following days we dropped to about 27 calls per day.”
He said that doesn’t always translate to arrests and citations but more basic activity.
Rohloff said the department has actually seen an uptick in suspicious activity reports. He said that may be because students are out of school or because more people are home looking out windows.
“That stat jumped from about 3 per week to almost 21 per week so that is something that shows things aren’t the same as they used to be. People are noticing things now and making a call to us, which is helpful to us.”
Rohloff said he too has seen a traffic reduction of about 50%, but said one of the concerns was the new detour around the construction site on Avenue H. He said he planned on increasing patrols on the detour, but it has actually run fairly smooth and doesn’t require extra patrols.
Rohloff said he has the same concerns about his department as other employers about keeping staff healthy and functional, but is staying cautiously optimistic.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this in the past. We’ve had a number of concerns…ebola, SARS, swine flu and those things, but this is the first time I’ve seen a declaration to shut down most normal operations in the state,” he said.
“We’re learning with the other people. I’m very pleased and amazed how the community has come together. Voluntarily, they’ve cooperated even the first day when we were moving around the bars, they were doing what they needed to do on their own.”