Pandemic Hasn’t Changed the Quality of Bedford Police Department’s Service

Few arrests and vehicle stops. Staggered shifts and no roll call. Concern about exposure. More calls related to mental health.

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the practices and routines of the Bedford Police Department. But what hasn’t changed, according to Chief Robert Bongiorno, is the quality.

“I think we have the best police department in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” the chief declared.  “These men and women are dedicated. They are all about the delivery of services. And they have not missed a beat — we have officers who have been working nonstop since this began. I can’t be more proud of this group.”

Chief Bongiorno: remarked that “one of the biggest challenges is how we deliver services, because we are, at our very roots, a community-service-oriented department. We believe in the concept of community policing.” What does that mean? “Everything was direct contact and trying to build relationships and partnerships.”

Now, thanks to social-distancing requirements, “we are doing the opposite. We are taking reports over the phone. We are not engaging the community – no National Night Out, no open houses, no Citizens Police Academy. We really had to shift gears and change on the fly about how we deliver. It’s a 180 on our philosophy of policing, so we had to shift on the fly and reinvent.”

“We had to come up with a policy to keep our officers safe while serving the public,” Chief Bongiorno said. That means the only vehicle stops are for egregious offenses, “as we don’t want to increase exposure and risk.” He noted that there are very few arrests since the courts are closed and the regional lockup is shut down.

“How we do stuff inside the building has drastically changed,” the chief said. And that’s not easy – “Police are creatures of habit. We had to eliminate roll call, where the sergeant briefed the officers. We had to limit the amount of exposure in the locker room. We had to stagger our shifts so groups of officers don’t arrive and leave at the same time. We have to keep the building clean, keep the cruisers clean, since multiple officers share the same cars.”

He continued, “We came up with directives that eliminated contact from person to person.” That means limited public access to the station, “where we always were open and transparent.” The chief pointed out that “our unsung heroes are the dispatchers.” Two work in one room, so protective barriers were installed and shifts were modified.

“We really had to look at our division of services from A to Z and we pretty much changed everything that we do internally and externally… All of this shifted within the last month and is unprecedented. Changing government is like turning an aircraft carrier, but we had to shift almost instantly about everything we did. We were going day to day – in the beginning, it was hour to hour.”

There has been a shift in the nature of police calls. Traffic volume is significantly reduced, as much of the local and commuting workforce ism at home. So there aren’t a lot of vehicular accidents, the chief said. “What we have seen, unfortunately, is a significant increase, at least anecdotally, in mental-health-related calls and some domestics.”

One reason is fewer available office appointments with mental health professionals, he said. The department emphasizes access to the social workers in the town Department of Health and Human Services. “We make referrals to the social workers all the time. They are an unbelievable resource.”

“Bedford residents are subject to stress – parents working from home, kids out of school. Bedford is not immune from what we are facing in society.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for occasional police road details for some work projects as well as storm-related closures.

The chief said that among the officers, “I think exposure is on their mind every day. Public safety personnel, police and fire, are on the front lines, wearing the appropriate equipment, masks and gloves. They worry — are they going to bring the virus home to their families, to their coworkers? It’s an added stress, as if the job wasn’t stressful enough.”

“It almost feels like this pandemic started a year ago,” Chief Bongiorno sighed. “But it’s only been a little more than a month.”

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