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Berkshire police departments adjust as officers test positive for virus

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PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Police Department has taken a hit from the new coronavirus, with six of the department's 85 officers testing positive for COVID-19.

Three of those officers have been cleared to return to duty, according to Chief Michael Wynn, but tests are pending on an additional five officers and one civilian staffer.

One other officer was tested, Wynn said, but results were negative.

Despite their exposure to the public, most other Berkshire police departments outside Pittsfield have seen minimal impact from the highly contagious virus.

North Adams Police Chief Jason Wood said one of his officers was tested last week, after showing potential symptoms, and is in self-quarantine, pending the result of that test.

Other county police departments, including Lenox, Williamstown and Great Barrington, have yet to see any cases among their officers.

Wynn said there hasn't been enough time or data to calculate any change in the overall crime rate since lockdowns, the closing of businesses and other measures went into effect in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

But, he said, the department has seen a "concerning," increase in domestic violence calls and an uptick for internet and computer fraud cases, as well as calls from people in crisis in need of assistance.

Williamstown Police Chief Kyle Johnson and Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh said they haven't seen any corresponding rise in crime since the outbreak began.

Walsh said call volume to the department has decreased.

Wood also said call volume has gone down, and his officers were advised over a week ago to keep an eye on businesses that might have had to shut down in the meantime.

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He said that, so far, there have been no problems and no spike in break-ins.

Departments have had to make adjustments in how they conduct their day-to-day business in light of the pandemic.

Wynn said officers who have the ability and technology to be able to work from home are doing so, and patrol officers' schedules have been adjusted and split into two teams to minimize contact between themselves.

For police, minimizing contact with the public can be a challenge.

Johnson said people are encouraged to call or email the department with nonemergency matters rather than coming to the station in person. And Lenox Police Chief Stephen O'Brien said arrests are being conducted as a last resort in order to minimize close contact and potential exposure.

Wynn said city officers are avoiding arrests when possible to avoid contact and to keep the number of people entering the department building to a minimum.

Wood said his officers also are encouraged to issue summonses to suspects, when possible, instead of making arrests.

Despite the extra stress that can come with responding to a fluid and unfamiliar situation, as well as a lack of contact with teammates and colleagues, attitudes within county police departments remain positive, according to the chiefs interviewed.

"Morale is as good as can be expected, given the uncertainty of the situation," Wood said.

"We're in good shape right now," Walsh said. "Obviously, it's day to day and, really, hour by hour how this thing changes."

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com and @BobDunn413 on Twitter.


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