Cape Elizabeth School Resource Officer David Galvan and Community Liason Officer Darin Estes partnering with the school department on March 18 to deliver food to families in need during school building closures. Courtesy Cape Elizabeth Police Department

CAPE ELIZABETH — With more people remaining indoors, cooped up with family or by themselves during stressful times, the Cape Elizabeth Police Department encourages victims of domestic conflicts or lonely people to reach out.

Although many businesses have closed, the Cape Elizabeth Police Department is still open and performing usual services, said Chief Paul Fenton. Officers have also begun assisting people who may be impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, whether they’re in need of food, medicine, comfort or safety.

He said that child abuse hasn’t been a big issue yet, but the department has received some domestic conflict calls. Although concerns about a higher volume of domestic issues are present.

Officers have also been reaching out to high-risk residents, like senior citizens, to ensure their needs are being met.

Even if a senior doesn’t need groceries or prescriptions filled, officers are happy to chat and make citizens feel less alone, said Fenton. Children and adults who may be feeling overwhelmed are also reaching out.

“Earlier today a child with special needs wanted to talk with a officer because he was feeling lonely,” Fenton said. “If people feel like they’re trapped, we encourage them to come in and meet with an officer.”

If someone wants to visit the police department, located at 325 Ocean House Road, the lobby is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but during off-hours, there’s a phone in the lobby that anyone can use to contact an officer, Fenton said.

Social distancing guidelines are always followed during meetings, he added.

People who are concerned about neighbors, elderly family members, or are suspicious of domestic conflicts are encouraged to call the police, he said. The non-emergency number is 767-3323.

Community Resource Officer Darin Estes calling seniors in Cape Elizabeth to check in and see if they require help. Chief Paul Fenton said that the department also welcomes calls from concerned citizens, no just seniors, but anyone having issues during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy Paul Fenton

Officers have been working with the school department to support food-insecure families as well, Fenton said.

The department is taking physical distancing seriously, he said. Officers have protective equipment and are making judgments about whether or not an issue can be solved over the phone.

“Minor stuff like neighbor conflicts, like if a tree is in someone’s driveway, we’ll handle that over the phone,” he said. “On a higher risk category, even in normal situations, we’ll respond to any kind of call, even for more at-risk cases. Child abuse, domestic abuse, elder falls, those types of calls are always visited.”

People with more minor issues may complain to dispatch, but Fenton said that the remote handling of smaller problems will better protect both the citizen’s and the officer’s health.

He added that dispatchers have done a good job of screening calls for emergency services, asking callers if there’s a chance they may have been around the virus.

“Our officers wear surgical masks,” said Fenton. “Masks tends to keep germs in, so we encourage callers to wear masks. It keeps spit from coming out. If there are deaths, which we have had during this, officers have entire outfits that they can wear for protection. We have a bunch of different equipment and we have to make sure it’s accessible. There’s different levels of it, depending on the situation.”

He added, “I know this saying’s overused but, there’s no playbook on this — it’s a lot of professionals trying to work together.”

For usual crime like traffic problems, which Cape Elizabeth has always had a large amount of, officers are still stopping cars and issuing tickets while remaining at least six feet away, said Fenton.

“The law is still the law,” he said. “There’s probably a little more discretion, not just for the officer but also for citizen. There’s a perception that anyone can drive as fast as they want and run stop signs. It’s not true. We’re doing a lot of speed checks, but those have been curtailed. But if we have someone speeding, they’ll get stopped. People can and will receive tickets.”

Fenton has received calls from residents wanting to volunteer for services like food deliveries, but he said that he’s not comfortable putting citizens at risk of catching or spreading the virus.

“The officers know that there’s a risk to it, but we’ve known that every day when we go into work,” he said. “They’re willing to put themselves in dangerous situations. It is a big thing to do to put yourself in front of someone else. I know many think they could do it, but the officers have thought about that for years so I’m more willing to have them go out and provide assistance.”

He does, however, encourage residents to send in ideas of how the police department can serve the community, either over the phone or on social media.

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