Antioch Police Chief Brooks explains response to crimes during coronavirus pandemic

A (long) message from Chief Brooks:

Antioch Police Chief Tammany “T” Brooks. Photo by APD.

The past 7 weeks have tested us as a nation, as we all had our worlds turned upside down by this global pandemic. Nothing is normal, and we’ve all been forced to make sacrifices. Some things we previously took for granted and just counted on to be there without question have now sometimes become a luxury – if available at all. Police response to quality of life and/or minor crimes was one of those things.

On Sunday, March 15, I called an emergency meeting at the police department with members of my command staff and the police officer’s association. Confronted with circumstances we’ve never encountered before, in the midst of a virus said to be highly contagious and potentially deadly, we put our collective minds together to figure out how to best provide public safety services to this great community – and do so in the safest manner possible. Tough decisions were made that day. All of which I, and I alone, take full responsibility for.

We made a number of operational and procedural changes to limit in-person contact staff had with each other and the public. Some of these changes included: closing the police department lobby to the public; authorizing officers to handle calls for service via telephone when appropriate; increasing the number of reports that could be made online; suspending all in person meetings/briefings/trainings; and isolating each patrol team to avoid possible cross contamination from another team. However, the most difficult decision I made that day was to order my officers to stop engaging in proactive police work, and suspend our response to calls that were not in-progress, serious, or an emergency.

Here is where I stop my story to apologize to my dispatchers, who unfortunately were the messengers when the public called seeking a police response to a situation not meeting this new directive. People aren’t usually in the best of moods when they call the police. And when given the news officers would not respond, some of our public chose to vent their frustrations at the dispatchers. I will not repeat some of the things I heard said to our dispatchers, as sometimes the comments were rude, hurtful, and disrespectful. Our dispatchers are some of the BEST in the business and did not deserve to be treated in this manner. I am forever grateful for their service and professionalism through the best and worst of times.

Now, let me explain why I directed my officers to stand down.

Good police work is the antithesis of social distancing. Every Antioch police officer interacts with dozens of people each shift, and some of these people require our attention up close and personal. My fear was officers could be exposed to the virus unknowingly by one person, and then transmit those germs to many other people throughout the course of their shift. And the more people they contacted each and every day, the greater the risk to the officers and the general public.

Now, law enforcement is the front line of the criminal justice system. To be effective, we need the rest of the system to work. We need the DA to prosecute cases, the courts to decide these cases, and we need the detention facilities to house the offenders. Without all these partnerships working together, the end result is the offender being released back into our community.

During this pandemic, we’ve been unable to prosecute any low-level cases due to the courts being shut down. Our jails were forced to restrict the intake of new arrestees to only those accused of serious/violent felonies and were also made to release many who were already in custody. Attempting to enforce these quality of life and low-level crimes under these conditions of no accountability on the back end is the equivalent of parents telling their child to stop misbehaving by the count of three “or else,” and then not taking any action when the defiant behavior continues. Because of this, I chose not to risk my officers’ (or the public’s) health under these circumstances. I wanted to avoid what some other police departments were facing, such as a 20% reduction of force due to officers being infected and/or quarantined. This would amount to more than 22 police officers for us – putting the department in a difficult position to provide basic public safety services, let along be able to adequately handle life threatening emergencies.

With 7 weeks behind us, we now have a reference point and data on which to evaluate our efforts. The conditions we face are ever-changing, and decisions I make will evolve as necessary. Having said that, today I met again with my command staff and police officer’s association representatives. At the end of this meeting, it was decided our police officers would, with some minor changes, return to proactively seeking out crime and traffic violations and answering all calls for service as we did before this pandemic. I believe with continued sanitation efforts and use of personal protective equipment, allowing officers to handle appropriate calls via telephone or asking some residents to meet us outside when we do respond, and maintaining separate patrol teams that do not intermingle with each other to avoid possible cross contamination, our officers should be able to perform their duties while minimizing risk of infection.

A couple of points to consider as I bring this long-winded statement to a close:

1. If you’re one of the persons who was unhappy about us not responding to a call for service during this time, do not blame the police department, the police officers, or our police dispatchers – direct your frustration at me. Again, it was my decision and they were merely following orders.

2. Although we are responding to these low-level and quality of life calls again, our ability to resolve the problem will still be hindered by the challenges faced in the rest of the criminal justice system through this pandemic. Even when an arrest can be made, the courts are still closed and not handling these matters, and the $0 Emergency Bail Schedule means they cannot be kept in jail. Prosecution and adjudication for these cases may come months later (if at all) when everything opens back up, but obviously this will take some time.

If there is anyone happier than our residents to hear proactive police work is now authorized again, it’s our officers and dispatchers. I continue to be impressed with the level of commitment and dedication exhibited by the members of our Antioch Police Department family and am honored to serve this community at their side. I truly value the relationship we have with our residents, and appreciate your patience and understanding as we travel through these trying times. Together we are stronger, and capable of making this great city even better and safer than ever.

Sincerely,

Chief T Brooks

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