Ch@t: Sheriff addresses the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19 — including lower crime, but the higher cost of depression, domestic calls

Posted 5/1/20

With the state’s stay-at-home orders, social distancing and a decrease in traffic and movement, related to so many businesses being closed, the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office is working …

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Ch@t: Sheriff addresses the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19 — including lower crime, but the higher cost of depression, domestic calls

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With the state’s stay-at-home orders, social distancing and a decrease in traffic and movement, related to so many businesses being closed, the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office is working differently — and seeing differences in community law enforcement. This week, we speak with Sheriff Mike Roberson about those changes, about what he misses during the pandemic, sacrifices he’s seeing around the county and much more.

How are you personally adjusting during the pandemic?

Personally? This is a tough time for me. I enjoy being able to interact with the community and I miss being able to do that like we have in the past. My wife owns a small business that has been ordered closed by the Governor’s Order, so that has impacted us as well. I am hearing a lot from local businesses about the hardship and I’m sympathetic to them. As soon as we’re told it’s safe, I hope we can get folks back to work and for people who need a career, we’re hiring!

In the meantime, I’m learning to meet with our employees and with the community in different ways. Together we are running the Sheriff’s Office in a way I never expected we would.

I’m ready for this to be over, just like we all are, but I want to make sure people are safe to start back to work, school and church and live life a little more like we knew it. We might never go back to how we were before this February, but I appreciate all of our employees for doing such a great job of pulling together to help out the whole community in new and innovative ways even when I know some of them are hurting in their own personal lives, just like the people they are helping. That takes a lot of courage and integrity.


Can you talk about your department’s operational changes — how has the pandemic impacted routines?

We have made a lot of changes, from top to bottom, but they have all been focused around the idea of providing the best, most responsive service to the public in the safest possible ways for everyone. We’ve found new ways to provide services remotely, by social distancing, and even by mail. We have made changes to the way we run the detention center in order to make every effort to prevent the spread of infection into our inmate population. We are getting gun permits turned around using technology to aid with social distancing. We’re learning the new normal, just like a lot of other businesses, but we are committed to providing the same quality of services to the public we always have, just in new ways.


What’s life like inside the Sheriff’s office? How is it different vs. pre-COVID?

Like I said, we are learning the “new normal.” We are learning the socially-distant lifestyle just like everyone else, but it’s hard. People are social by nature. Our staff enjoy shaking hands, pats on the back, and even an occasional goodwill hug, but that isn’t possible for the near future. Many of our employees have spouses who are out of work and children who are out of school, just like everyone else. They are making sacrifices to remain on-duty and I appreciate the hard work and dedication I see from them each day.

The local businesses have been wonderful to us and have stepped up to support our staff and the rest of our community’s first responders and health care workers. We have seen a huge outpouring and I want the community to know how much we value them. We live in a great place!


What about for your deputies and staff out in the public — any surprises?

We have been very impressed with the willingness we have seen for people to comply with the Emergency Orders and to support one another in a time of need. We have watched people sacrifice by giving of their time and resources to deliver food and necessities to others. We have seen students give their time to spend a few minutes with lonely seniors who are socially isolated by calling to speak with them. So, I wouldn’t say that we are surprised. We knew that the people of this community were good people and they’re proving it to us through this crisis more and more each day.

Have you been asked to handle any calls regarding violations to the Governors’ orders (in terms of crowd size, etc.)?

We have gotten some calls related to violations of the Governor’s Orders but thankfully, so far, we have been successful in getting those situations resolved without the need for arrests. We appreciate the public’s willingness to work with us and, in many cases, allow us to educate them on the Governor’s Orders as they change over time. Most people understand the seriousness of the virus and want to do what is best for everyone.


In terms of criminal behavior, calls and investigations — what’s changing?

Overall, our volume of calls has decreased because more people are at home, so property crimes are down and vehicle-related crimes are down as well. This is normal for us when people are at home. We also see these crimes drop during holidays, especially Christmas to New Year’s Day each year.

We have, however, seen an increase in depression, mental health calls, overdoses, suicides, mental health commitments, and even responded to a fair number of domestic-related calls. There is a balance in all of this. We can stay at home but not stay in the house. We have encouraged people to get outside, call friends and family, and take care of those who don’t have family or live by themselves. We encourage people to remember that taking some time away from others, even at home, in order to remain calm is never a bad idea. Social distancing and staying at home is hard on all of us, but this will end at some point.


What are you most looking forward to when this is over?

I’m looking forward to being able to go out in the community, shake hands, laugh, and smile with people like normal. I miss those simple things and I will never take them for granted again. Oh, and I look forward to eating something that someone else has cooked… and not having to do the dishes after. I have enjoyed all the restaurants that have adjusted providing take out service and I hope they continue when this is done!

Spending time at home has helped all of us to understand we need to slow down a little, appreciate where we are, who we are with, and where we are going. It’s pretty humbling actually.


Are there any particular things you’d like to address?

This virus is pretty scary. The fear of the unknown is the worst part. For some, denial of the situation is just as bad as the fear. The truth is that the doctors and leaders don’t have all the answers. They will make mistakes. I appreciate everyone’s flexibility to do what’s best for all of us. I know our medical professionals and leaders are doing their very best.

I appreciate the hard work our staff does every day and especially during these challenging time. But I want to also thank the nurses, the cleaning crews, the fire departments, and EMS, who are on the frontlines and are the true heroes in this crisis.


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