RINCON — COVID-19 appears to be on the wane but Chief Jonathon Murrell said the virus continues to impact how Rincon Police Department officers perform their duties.
“We are a small department and we’re trying to keep our guys as safe as we can.” Murrell said. “We limited some traffic stops. We didn’t respond to the interior of homes on permittable calls.
“We would still respond but we wouldn’t go inside unless it was a dire emergency.”
The chief faced a lot of challenges because the department wasn’t fully staffed early in the pandemic and still isn’t today. He said that at one point it had an entire shift with a possible exposure. The situation had to covered that with short staffing the officers pulled together and made it through.
Murrell is relieved he is to finally be seeing light at the end of this tunnel and said, “I am so excited to get back to some form of normalcy.”
Some things haven’t changed, however.
Murrell said, “Still today, one thing we implemented early on was the lack of necessity for a traffic offender to have to sign a citation. In lieu of that, we would have the officer write ‘Covid 19’ in the signature line and hand them their copy and, in that way, you’re not passing material back and forth between the officer and the offender.”
He is beginning to look into relaxing mask use and other protocols when the Rincon City Council gives him the green light.
The department is currently only one member short and all office spaces are now filled. Space for the K-9 team has been completed with two dogs and two handlers.
The canines are mostly used for drug detection and for tracking suspects and/or missing persons in the area.
A CID (Criminal Investigations Division) office was recently completed.
“That is the last bit of office space we can squeeze out of this building unless the courtroom/council chambers is relocated to another location,” Murrell said.
Most of the forensics are sent out to the local GBI offices. The CID office works with homicides or even misdemeanors where an identity is needed.
Murrell said, “They work general crimes, property crimes, violent crimes, drug investigations — they do the whole nine yards.”
Even though the Rincon Police Department is fairly small, it has to deal with intense situations from time to time. Murrell recalled one 2020 incident that involved a barricaded gunman in the wee hours of the morning.
Murrell said, “That was a really intense scene for a while where the subject had over 20 guns in the home.”
The chief said weapons were strategically placed around the home, with ammo near them. He said they reached out to Effingham County for it emergency response team, which came out and helped with the situation.
The gunman escaped but was apprehended later that same day.
In another situation, two Rincon officers were shot at three times while trying to quietly approach a scene. Effingham County was called to lend support in this case as well.
The suspect was eventually talked into puttinghis gun down by a Rincon Police Department supervisor.
Traffic and other calls for service are the most common for the department.
Murrell became chief of the department in June. He said he has been very well supported by city council and others.
“I try to keep a good working relationship with everyone around me. The sheriff, other chiefs, Chiefs Association — you never know when you’re going to need that helping hand or direction,” he said.
Murell added that he has gotten great support from within the department and from outside organizations. It has been much appreciated, he said.
The chief said that the disconnect between the police and the communities they serve is not severe in Rincon.
“I don’t believe we have that here on as large a scale as even nearby jurisdictions do,” he said. “We appreciate the community being patient with us and hope to continue the same relationship that we’ve had in the past.”