Oxford Police face new challenges during virus outbreak

By Emma Kinghorn

As Oxford adjusts to protocols for social distancing, business closures and restrictions on groups of more than 10 people, all brought on by concerns over COVID-19, Oxford Police Department is adjusting the ways it protects the community.

OPD is taking precautions to not expose residents, or its officers, to each other unless necessary. One effort to reduce these exposures is a new online reporting system for non-violent or non-emergency incidents, such as theft or property issues.

After an incident is reported online, an officer is able to follow up with the resident in need for more information. In the first week of this online option, three reports were filed, said Lt. Lara Fening. The system also has opened up an opportunity for people who are no longer in town, such as college students, to interact with the police, Fening said.

Many residents also are more concerned with people not following “social distancing” protocols and emergency public health orders set forth by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. These urge people not to socialize outside of their homes or to gather in groups of more than 10 people. People should only take essential trips outside the home and maintain a distance of six feet between themselves and other persons when out in public.

While face-to-face classes have been canceled at Miami and most of the dorms have closed, students still remain in off-campus housing.

Fening said that the majority of Oxford residents are adhering to the social distancing guidelines, but there are times when groups are spotted in and around some of the off-campus student housing. “We encourage voluntary compliance,” she said. “Don’t be surprised if we stop by a party and start a conversation.”

In response to complaints of people violating the social distancing orders, OPD has done its best to start these conversations to educate violators of the consequences. So far, no officer has found it necessary to ticket or cite anyone, Fening said.

“We go into those situations believing that they are already doing the right thing, and just wanting to confirm,” she said.

If educating residents doesn’t work, the officers will resort to ticketing, Fening said. Officers are keeping track of which residences they have had to approach and educate.

As the weather gets nicer, and more Miami students return to Oxford, Fening said she expects the temptation to violate social distancing by gathering outside will grow.

“I’m not opposed to them [students] coming back, it’s good for the economy and life here,” said Fening. “But they need to follow the guidelines.”

In addition to social distancing violations, Fening noted that OPD will be on the lookout for normal violations such as noise complaints or littering.

“I want [everyone] to have fun,” she said. “But you have to do it within the parameters that we will all have to live under for a while.”