Covid-19 crisis plan — Bristol forms two police forces

In an effort to protect the force and the town, the Bristol Police Department is split in two


Bristol now has two police departments.

In reaction to the Covid-19 crisis, the department has been split in two, north and south, with two units operating independently of each other. The bold change is intended to help protect the force and ensure operational continuity in the event of a coronavirus contamination or mandatory quarantine for officers.

Chief Kevin Lynch outlined the new command structure in a meeting with the department’s leadership team Wednesday morning, with the meeting held inside the station’s large garage so that everyone could maintain safe social distancing. After outlining the plan and dismissing the force, he talked about his reasons for invoking the emergency procedures, which include utilizing his management rights within the police union contract to change staffing schedules, roles and assignments in an emergency situation like this.

“In the City of Providence, 10 officers were quarantined. We’re a small police department. If 10 or 12 of our officers has to be quarantined for 14 days, we’re in trouble,” the chief said. “If a segment of our officers has to be impacted, I want the residents of Bristol to know that the Bristol Police Department is going to continue, and our response and our staffing levels will not go down.”

The force is hereby split into two separate units. The north team is now operating out of the mobile command center, which is parked at Bristol Fire Department headquarters at the top of Annawamscutt Drive. This department, under the command of Capt. Brian Burke, is patrolling and responding to incidents from Bay View Avenue to the Warren town line.

The south team is still based at the station, under the command of Capt. Scott McNally, patrolling and responding to calls south of Bay View Avenue to the Mt. Hope Bridge. The two departments are operating with full autonomy from one another. Dispatchers will be receiving calls and routing them to one department or the other based on geography.

A third leadership team is also in place, with a group of retired officers on call to step in if necessary. That group consists of retired Lt. James Annis, Sgt. Robert Millard, Sgt. Steve Calenda, Det. John Ferreira and Det. Keith Martin.

“My goal is to create a longstanding three layers of the Bristol Police Department,” Chief Lynch said. “If the first line goes down, the second line is ready to go … So in essence we have two permanent police departments, and a third from our retired officers.”

The chief said they have seen significant impacts to police departments around the country during the coronavirus crisis. A Detroit police officer lost his life to the virus. And in New York City, a large portion of the force is under self-quarantine.

“The normal functions of the Bristol Police Department would not sustain if a large group of officers had to self-quarantine,” the chief said.

To limit risk, officers are changing numerous procedures. Every patrol car is equipped with a personal protective equipment (PPE) kit. Officers are cleaning and sanitizing every vehicle every shift. They are keeping their distance from the public whenever possible. They are being told to strictly remain within their district (north or south) and to not socialize or interact with officers outside of their assigned district. They will continue arresting people when necessary, but some of those procedures have changed, too. Those arrested for non-violent offenses may be released quickly with a court summons, rather than held at the station and processed. They’re doing everything possible to reduce close human interactions. So don’t expect to see a group of officers congregating at the doughnut shop anytime soon — which would not be advisable, since the department’s fitness room has been closed, too.

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