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County police expand phone, online reporting systems

The Baltimore County Police Department is bringing back telephone reporting units and expanding its online reporting system, with plans to seek additional sanitation supplies in order to comply with public health officials’ recommendations on social distancing and reducing the spread of the new coronavirus.

County police also are using personal protective equipment when responding to sick or injured persons.

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While “all police functions are still active at this point,” officers are exercising discretion, like attempting to serve fewer arrest warrants for some minor offenses, police spokeswoman Jennifer Peach said.

Shortly after Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s announcement that her office will drop pending criminal charges against anyone arrested for drug possession and some other crimes, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said in an email his office is “looking at all cases on a case by case basis.”

“We have been working with our detention center to identify non-violent defendants” to assess their release from jail, Shellenberger wrote.

Those defendants, if released, “will still have a trial date in the future,” Shellenberger wrote.

Roughly 70 defendants “serving a minor sentence” for misdemeanors, and who were due to be released in 30 days, “are getting out but the conviction stands,” Shellenberger said.

Baltimore County officers are trying to limit the number of in-person police responses by setting up telephone reporting units at each of the county’s 10 precincts for non-emergency incident reports, and screening callers who dial 911 or the police non-emergency number to report past crimes in order to determine whether an officer is needed on the scene, Peach said.

The call units will not be used for reports of crimes that are in progress, like assaults and domestic incidents, robberies or burglaries, or if it appears a burglary has just been committed, Peach said. Officers will be dispatched for reports of crimes that are in progress or if evidence collection is required.

All calls into the communications center are already being screened for flu-like symptoms and are being asked if they are able to step outside of their homes “into a more open area to speak to officers to create more social distancing,” Peach said.

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Calls to the county’s 911 system reporting emergencies, even for health-related issues like breathing trouble, have been fewer than usual, according to Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost.




County police are also expanding the types of crimes eligible to be submitted through the online system used for non-emergency reports, Police Chief Melissa Hyatt announced March 17.

Residents can now report online past incidents of fraud, drug possession and distribution, animal bites resulting in minor injuries, harassing phone calls, trespassing, traffic complaints or suspicious persons, according to police. The online reporting system was previously open to just reports of past incidents of lost or destroyed property and theft, hit-and-runs, abandoned vehicles and reports made by residents who are out of the county.

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When officers do respond to calls, they may be wearing personal protective gear assigned to each officer upon their Police Academy graduation, Peach said.

“Depending on the circumstance, our officers might be wearing personal protective equipment,” Hyatt said in an announcement, adding the face masks, goggles, gloves and aprons “will not impact our level of service.”

Officers are already starting to wear the gear when they are responding to calls regarding sick or injured individuals who may present a higher risk of coronavirus exposure.

That protocol is “subject to change because this is a fluid situation,” Peach said.

Police are also seeking additional supplies like bleach, disinfecting wipes, paper towels, hand sanitizer and cleaning sprays on top of emergency procurements of cleaning materials issued to police, jails and courts earlier this month by County Executive Johnny Olszewki Jr.’s administration.

Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka has said at least one police precinct, the Franklin Precinct in Reisterstown, is soliciting donations for additional cleaning supplies.

“We’re in it for the long haul. It’s not like this is going to disappear next week,” Peach said. Every precinct has been delivered supplies, but “we know we’re going to have replenish.”

To call Baltimore County’s non-emergency police response phone number, dial 410-887-2222. To file a police report online, go to baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/police/onlinereport.

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