Covid-19’s effect on police: a daughter’s thoughts

By Kiera Bussiere

 Sgt. Edmond Bussiere, supported by family, at his swearing-in ceremony on April 30, 2014, including his wife, Dorothy, and daughters, Maura and Kiera, the author of this piece.

Editor’s note: Part five in a series on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected Hofstra University students personally.

As the daughter of a police officer, I have always had to fear for my father’s safety. High-speed car chases and weapon-wielding criminals are part of the job description. My father, Sgt. Edmond Bussiere, is one of 19 full-time officers on the force of the Littleton Police Department, a small-town precinct in Middlesex County, Mass., about 26 miles northwest of Boston.

After reading a CNN article about the changes made by officers across the country as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, I was curious about what changes have taken place in the Littleton department.

“For the entire time I’ve been a police officer, they’ve always told us no masks, no covers on your face,” said Matthew Pinard, the Littleton police chief. “The community wants to see our faces.”

Officers are required to wear masks when near people, according to a article. Although wearing masks is a necessary protection, officers say they make them less personable when answering calls, according to my father.

Littleton patrol officer Megan Wodzinski also said she believes the mask hinders her ability to properly communicate. “Being able to see someone’s lips moving, being able to focus on them, is a focal point for people when you’re speaking to them,” Wodzinski said. “It’s harder to get someone’s attention or hold someone’s attention if they’re not actually looking at you speaking to them.”

Interacting with the community plays a major role in being an officer, especially for small-town departments like Littleton. What was once a regular part of the job now puts officers at risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Another change my father discussed was not being in the field as much. “We went from being a proactive department to a reactive department, as we now take all non-emergency calls over the phone instead of face-to-face,” he said. “We were a very active community police department, and now we are not interacting.”

“We’re not shaking anybody’s hands,” Pinard noted. “We’re not having any personal contact with the community. It goes completely against everything we’ve learned over the last 20 years.”

Even regular duties such as stopping cars have been limited to help keep exposure to a minimum. The officers are only interfering with “egregious violations” that are clear and present safety concerns for the public, according to Pinard. “We’re not doing headlights, plate lights or taillights violations because we’re trying to lessen our contact and keep our social distance.”

Cross contamination was another necessary issue that required changes in the department. One of the first precautionary steps taken was to close off dispatch, according to Pinard. Only the seven-full time and two part-time dispatchers are allowed in and out. The purpose is to limit contact between dispatchers and officers.

“Ultimately, shutting down dispatch actually saved us officers from cross contamination,” my father said. “After three dispatchers ended up testing positive for coronavirus, we realized the precaution is what kept the rest of us safe.”

Officers and dispatchers now have their temperatures taken when entering and leaving the station, according to Pinard, and if a member of the force were to have a temperature over 100 degrees, he or she would need to leave the station immediately.

Cross contamination is also a concern when it comes to making arrests. While New York officers have recently faced criticism for violating social distancing while making arrests, according to The Washington Post, I asked my father how his department would handle a violent suspect.

“Social distancing is not going to impact how we do our job,” he said. “We still have to be hands on and handcuff the suspects while making arrests. The only change is that we now wear personal protection equipment.”

During this time when first responders are among those at the highest risk of exposure, I’m proud of my father and all the other officers who continue working to keep us safe.