Police chiefs contemplating automatic mutual aid amid state of emergency

FLUSHING — Out of an abundance of caution, some local police chiefs are considering a temporary automatic mutual aid agreement to provide cross-jurisdictional coverage in the event their departments are hit with the COVID-19 virus.

“It’s a precautionary measure, a safety net,” said Flushing Township Police Chief Mark Bolin.

“The intent is that, in the event another department would need assistance, we would collaborate and assist whenever necessary,” Bolin said. “Typically, if an officer is working, they can make a request and it would give us jurisdiction. But if they’re not working and unable to make that request, it can get a little complicated.”

The proposed agreement could include the Flushing, Flushing Township, Clayton Township and Mt. Morris Township police departments.

“At this point, it’s just in the research stage,” said Flushing police Chief Mark Hoornstra. “It’s something that’s been in discussion, but nothing has been put into writing.”

The discussions follow a recommendation from the state advising local agencies to establish criteria “as to what is expected in the event of law enforcement’s inability to provide adequate resources in a state of emergency,” he said.

“They say the first thing a community should rely on is mutual aid,” Hoornstra said. “Then, they should request assistance from the county Office of Emergency Management. If the county can’t provide adequate resources, then it should go to the state for a request for resources.”

Currently, the plan is in the hands of municipal attorneys who are discussing what such an agreement would look like.

“That’s as far as we’ve gotten,” Hoornstra said.

Both Hoornstra and Bolin said their officers are healthy at this time.

“We’ve been taking a lot of extra measures to make sure we’re protecting our staff the best we can,” Hoornstra said. “Making sure our staff is healthy is extremely critical, and making sure we can provide adequate response, and that we’re not inadvertently transferring the disease.”

Bolin said he has requested more personal protective equipment, but the community has shown tremendous support for the officers with donations of hand sanitizer, face masks and food.

Clayton Township police Chief Charlotte Brown said her officers are still healthy, as well.

At a Board of Trustees meeting, held via teleconference last Thursday, Supervisor Tom Spillane said township officials will meet with Brown before making a decision on the proposed agreement.