‘We are fortunate in our community’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘We are fortunate in our community’As concerns surrounding COVID-19 outbreaks continue to disrupt nearly every sector of the community, Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin said that his team is equipped to maintain public safety.

“We are very fortunate in this community,” he said. For years, external emergency service agencies have praised RPD, along with its citizen volunteers, for the extensive training, networking and planning they conduct on a regular basis to prepare for disaster.

“I would say that we are as prepared as we can be,” said McLaughlin. “The truth is that nobody predicted this scenario, and probably none of us were fully prepared for what we are dealing with. But I feel confident that our department is doing everything we can to handle what comes next.”

District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer has issued statements to the public since the start of the coronavirus lockdown that residents should beware of opportunists running scams or price-gouging schemes, and how to report them. She also notified residents this week that a convicted murderer living in Bakersfield is among the violent criminals whose sentences have been commuted by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who expressed concerns that inmates might be at a heightened risk for contracting coronavirus.

“We have not been greatly impacted by those issues, that I can see,” said McLaughlin.

He noted that there have been a few crimes of opportunity — including the attempted burglary at John’s Pizza early Tuesday morning (see related story, this edition). “But nothing outside of our ability to handle.”

Locally, McLaughlin said that his biggest concern is the apparent state of heightened distress in our community. Shortly after the first local case of COVID-19 was reported last week, stores reported an influx of panicked shoppers.

“We sent squad cars out just as a precaution, but things seemed to calm down quickly,” he said.

“The other trend I’ve noticed is that our drivers are not being as cautious as they should. There have been a couple of major accidents already. We all need to make sure we are being safe.”

RPD has been handling as much non-urgent business as possible via phone or e-mail, said McLaughlin, but officers are still handling emergency service calls.

“One of the things we are seeing in other communities is how quickly the coronavirus can spread within a department. So we are taking precautions with that in mind, as well,” he said.

“Staffing could become a major limitation because if even one officer on a shift is infected, you have a high likelihood of putting everyone in quarantine for 14 days.”

In the event that a shift is compromised, McLaughlin already has a reserve shift of a sergeant, a detective and two officers ready to be called in. RPD also has mutual aid agreements with other agencies in the county, “but since everyone is in the same situation, we are focused on making sure we have local resources at the ready to handle our needs.”

The next layer of support comes with the citizen patrols — including reserve officers, Police and Community Together volunteers and Community Emergency Response Team members. “In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’ve directed our volunteers to stay home. If the time comes, I want to be able to call them in.”

What can the community do? “Many people are already doing their part by staying home. Be safe. Be careful. We will make sure we stay ready to serve.”

Pictured: Acting Sgt. Patrick Harlow in radio contact with an officer, observes distancing protocols to reduce contact between members of the force. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-04-03