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COVID-19 impacts Rincon Police Department
Jonathan Murrell
Jonathan Murrell was named police chief on a permanent basis in June. - photo by Photo by Rick Lott

RINCON — Lt. Jonathan Murrell is leading the Rincon Police Department through an unusual period.

Murrell said COVID-19 has impacted how officers perform their duties. He explained that safety protocols have prevented them from gathering large groups of people together so they have been conducting Community Watch meetings.

 "We are a small department and we're trying to keep our guys as safe as we can,” he said.

All officers have been given PPE (personal protection equipment). They have receive N95 masks and gloves and were issued one can of Lysol and hand sanitizer. Murrell said it has been difficult to find those items and that they got lucky early in the crisis and found quantities of the products they needed.

The Effingham County Emergency Management Agency also furnished them with sanitizer made by a distiller.

The department is currently running three people short out of 19 and has been in a constant rebuilding stage since the end of 2018. 

Following the sudden resignation of Chief Mark Gerbino in September 2019, Murrell has served as interim chief.

“It’s been a change of pace,” Murrell said. “I’ve always been very patrol oriented and I’m now in a position where I can help those guys on patrol better. It’s been enjoyable.”

The department has seen a small recent spike in domestic violence calls but, generally, the rate of violent crime has not increased over the past year. Murrell said the spike in domestic calls stems largely from COVID-19 because many people have been confined to their homes and not able to go to work.

Officers responding to auto crashes and other serious incidents have to be very cautious because of the highly contagious respiratory disease.

"They have to think now instead of just rushing to the aid of the citizen,” Murrell said. “They've got to protect themself prior to making contact because if they're not helping their self, they're not able to help the citizens."

Officers still answer medical calls but they don't actually go inside houses or businesses and make contact with the patient unless there is some type of extenuating circumstance.

“That contact is left to EMS personnel,” Murrell said.

Murrell said the police department, located at 107 W. 17th St., is busting at the seams. 

He said, "We're just out of room and we have an empty (Criminal Investigations Division) position that, when we fill it, we have to have an office for that person." 

Murrell said that an office originally targeted for a GBI office would have to fill that need. He added that a K-9 office was built separate from the main building in an effort to create more room.

The building's exterior has also been painted and features a blue line running around it. There is also a new sign out front.

A new police vehicle was just picked up, the department’s first SUV. It was issued to the K-9 Unit in order to give it more room for equipment.