Staggered shifts, scaling back on arrests and social distancing, both from the public and each other, are among the new protocols that have been adopted by Island police and emergency responders during the pandemic.

The new practices are an adjustment for public responders who routinely engage in face-to-face interactions. Fire chiefs, police chiefs and others spoke this week about the new challenges they face when going out on calls.

All said the goal is to limit the risk of exposure, for both personnel and the public.

“There have been infection control policies for as long as infection has been around. They are constantly changing,” said Tracey Jones, coordinator for the Tisbury ambulance service, which has increased its safety precautions. “Obviously, [coronavirus] is highly contagious. Our main concern is unknowingly transferring it from one patient to another,” she said.

Police are now opting to issue court summons instead of arrests for nonviolent crimes, including drug offenses. Perpetrators of violent crimes, such as domestic assault or violating a protective order, are still subject to arrest.

“The laws are still going to be enforced,” said Tisbury police chief Mark Saloio. “Our public health crisis is the front burner issue for all of us in public safety. That has to take priority.”

Down-Island police departments, which are much larger than in the small up-Island towns, have adopted the most rigid protocols for officers. Edgartown police chief Bruce McNamee said his officers are split into groups that do not interact, inside the department and out. Groups of four officers work, 24-hour shifts with three days off between shifts. Cruisers and offices are cleaned during and after each shift.

“The goal is to minimize the risk of exposure within the department,” Chief McNamee said. “It is becoming an industry standard, trying to separate everybody as much as we can. Fatigue is certainly a concern with a 24-hour shift . . . But this is a temporary tool, I can’t stress that enough.”

Oak Bluffs police are taking similar measures. Police Chief Erik Blake, who is also the town emergency management director, said officer safety is vital to maintaining order and compliance under the recently declared state of emergency. “This is a unique situation, but the planning is not unique,” Chief Blake said, citing guidelines for other emergencies, such as storms. “Both unions were accepting of whatever changes we needed to do to make sure they could still answer calls for service . . . Our priority is not to give up manpower numbers.”

All six Island police chiefs meet daily via teleconference daily to discuss ongoing safety protocols and other matters.

Police are urging residents to use discretion when seeking emergency services. Non-emergency incidents, including civil disputes, minor vandalism and identity theft will be handled by phone. On-the-scene emergency response is mostly unchanged, with extra safety precautions in place. Dispatchers at the county communications center assist by screening callers for symptoms prior to the arrival of police, fire and EMS at a scene.

Data provided by the Dukes County sheriff’s department show that 911 calls have decreased by more than 10 per cent Islandwide since March 13.

But police are adapting to ever-changing rules. With the recently adopted construction bans in Island towns, enforcement has mostly been through education. Chief Blake said so far his officers have had to ask eight crews to halt construction. “Everyone we have come in contact with has shut it down,” Chief Blake said. “What we want is voluntary compliance.”

Islandwide, no fines have been issued.

West Tisbury, police chief Matt Mincone said his department is working to inform the Portuguese-speaking population about the new rules under the stay-at-home order.

Aquinnah and Chilmark police reported have had to respond a few times to crowds gathering at scenic spots.

Police said they had yet to respond to the home of a person who has tested positive for coronavirus.

And as the nation settles into conducting business through virtual platforms, Chief Saloio flagged a recent a wave of digital crime, statewide. He said scams often use Covid-19 information to entice people to click on harmful links.

“Digital criminals out there will take full advantage of this situation and send out information that looks innocent,” Chief Saloio said. “Members of the public should be very aware of the potential for these scams.”

Sheriff Bob Ogden said new measures are in place at the county jail in Edgartown to ensure the safety of staff and inmates. There are currently 10 people incarcerated, he said. No contact with visitors is allowed, interagency transfers have been suspended and people under arrest are screened before they are brought into the facility.

“We always think that we are trying to protect the general public from the incarcerated, but right now we are trying to protect our incarcerated from the general public,” the sheriff said. “Our primary concern is an introduction of the virus into our facility.”

The National Guard delivered a load of emergency response supplies to the Vineyard this week, including an isolation tent for staff at the jail.

Edgartown district court clerk-magistrate Liza Williamson said the district court is open only for emergencies, with hearings and other emergency proceedings cunducted via videoconference. All other hearings have been continued to May.

Ms. Williamson said restraining orders can still be placed through the police, which will relay information to the court. Interpreters are also available through the police departments.

“It has been a challenge balancing constitutional rights with public safety,” Ms. Williamson said. “My main concern is that the public knows we are here, and we are available for emergencies.”

An extra state trooper has been assigned to the Oak Bluffs barracks.

Chief Blake said additional resources are available if needed.

“Mechanisms are in place to get a significant number of troopers and National Guard out here,” he said. “Logistically, I could reach out and they would be here within the next day to assist us. I’m not afraid to ask for help, but we would only ring the bell if we absolutely needed it. Right now, we don’t.”