Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Law enforcement agencies and other first responders credit cooperation and planning for helping them work their way through the coronavirus pandemic.
"When it first started happening we all got together as an emergency operations center," said Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff. "We would have Central Valley Health District, the Jamestown Police Department and others on a call once a week. We talked about these things as it started ramping up in the state and later ramping up in Stutsman County."
Scott Edinger, Jamestown chief of police, said the early discussions covered a lot of ground.
"We didn't know how severe, how drastic this would be," he said.
Early in the pandemic, the Jamestown Police Department limited services as a way to reduce possible exposure to the virus.
"We were doing only necessary traffic stops," Edinger said, as an example. "We'd do only warnings but we have seen traffic speeds increase and have gone back to more normal enforcement."
There were also changes in other law enforcement activities.
"Calls for service dropped to nearly nothing," Edinger said, referring to calls that required officers to respond to an incident. "I don't know if it was less incidents or less reporting, or both."
Edinger said officers did some housekeeping tasks like organizing the evidence lockers and catching up on paperwork.
"Where it hurt us was in training," he said, referring to the suspension of many of the training classes officers routinely attended.
Planning was a major part of the activities for the Sheriff's Office during the pandemic, Kaiser said.
"We had a lot of input from our health care partners," he said. "We worked on plans for sheltering people without homes and getting rides for testing and treatment for people without transportation."
Planning and preparations were a major part of the early part of the pandemic.
"We didn't have a prior plan," Kaiser said. "We worked it out as we went."
Working things out included having sanitizer and face masks in every car.
"If we had to take someone to the (North Dakota) State Hospital, we had disinfected the car and the officers wore PPE (personal protective equipment)," Kaiser said.
Another precaution taken by the departments included taking reports over the phone or at a distance.
"We didn't actually make contact with people making the reports if we didn't have to," Kaiser said.
As the pandemic progressed, the departments went from planning to dealing with quarantines and illnesses of staff members.
"We had two office staff and one deputy get COVID-19," Kaiser said. "It is unknown if it was work related or from their personal life."
Even Kaiser had to quarantine after he fingerprinted someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus.
Edinger said the Jamestown Police Department had five or six officers test positive for the coronavirus.
"Nobody got terribly sick so we were lucky that way," he said.
The Jamestown Fire Department reported five firefighters who were in quarantine at one point, according to Jim Reuther, fire chief.
"That was a concern but we made different arrangements to cover the absences," he said. "It put more strain on the full-time staff."
Reuther said the Jamestown Fire Department was always ready and able to respond to any situation.
"Our responses never changed," he said. "We could respond during COVID as we could before. The pandemic just left us a little short staffed."
First responders were among the first to be vaccinated when the coronavirus vaccine became available. Edinger and Kaiser said there were a few officers in each department that declined to be vaccinated but things are beginning to return to normal.
"Most everything feels normal except the jail and court," Edinger said.
The Stutsman County Correctional Center has less capacity while allowing for social distancing among inmates. Officers have to confirm there is capacity before making an arrest. Activity in Southeast District Court is largely done interactively or in the larger courtroom of the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse.
"Hopefully, with things winding down, we can do more things," Kaiser said. "Overall, Stutsman County as a whole did very well.."
But Edinger doesn't anticipate things ever returning to what would be a pre-pandemic normal.
"We are all a little more cautious but that has become normal," he said.