Officers Jonathan Simonson, left, and Neal Cullen are among the members of the police department now wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Ocean City Police Department) By DONALD WITTKOWSKIOcean City police officers are used to wearing body armor to protect them from gunfire.Now, they have added another type of personal protection equipment – medical-style masks to prevent them and the public from being exposed to the coronavirus.Police Chief Jay Prettyman has issued a new order for officers to wear cloth masks. He did so after reading the most recent update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and consulting with medical and law enforcement experts across New Jersey and the country.“We see this as an additional layer of protection for the public. We have to approach people, conduct investigations and assist citizens in need. During these times, we want the people we serve to feel comfortable about interacting with our officers,” Prettyman said in a statement posted on the police department’s Facebook page.Officers began wearing masks on Monday, according to Lt. Patrick Randles, who is in charge of the department’s public information.“The officers will wear the masks anytime during their shift when it may be difficult to achieve safe social distancing,” Randles said in an email Tuesday.In March, the police department took additional steps to protect officers from the coronavirus pandemic.At that time, the protocol for handling non-emergency calls was revised. When calls come in from the public, the police communications center will collect the information and work with police supervisors and officers to determine whether an officer’s physical presence is needed to complete a report.Some incidents will be documented over the phone instead of sending an officer to the scene for a non-emergency incident.In another change, visitors to the police station now speak to officers using the internal phone system instead of direct person-to-person contact.“The goal of this temporary procedure is to help cut down on unnecessary contact with individuals as a means of reducing in-person contact and mitigating the risks associated with person-to-person transmission of novel coronavirus,” the department said in a statement.The department stressed that the change in protocol will not impact the dispatching of officers to high priority, emergency incidents.Members of the public needing police assistance should call 911 to report an emergency or (609) 399-9111 for non-emergencies.
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