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Jail frees beds in light of virus

Police, fire departments implement policy changes
Friday, March 20, 2020
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The Lincoln Parish Detention Center has freed up beds in case it has to house any inmates with coronavirus symptoms.

The move came in the wake of the jail’s turning away four arrestees in a matter of days beginning late last week. Each was reportedly running a fever and had either been out of the country or in New Orleans, where 231 cases of the virus had been reported as of Thursday.

On Tuesday, the 241-bed detention center had only two open beds and no place to quarantine a symptomatic inmate. But judges in the Lincoln Parish-inclusive 3rd Judicial District signed an order releasing several low-level, non-violent offenders to free up space.

“Public safety was not compromised,” District Attorney John Belton said.

LPDC Assistant Warden Major J.D. Driskill said the facility’s accepting an arrestee meeting COVID-19 criteria that causes concern — not only physical symptoms but also travel history — is “a case by case basis.”

“But, if it’s a serious crime, we are prepared to hold them,” he said.

Meantime, the Lincoln Parish Sheriff ’s Office and Ruston city police have cut back on interacting with the public in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Both agencies are primarily working patrol, answering calls and responding to accidents.

“We have curtailed about 95% of our proactive policing,” Sheriffelect Stephen Williams said.

For misdemeanor charges, sheriff’s deputies and city officers are giving out summons, where appropriate, rather than making an arrest.

Ruston Police Chief Steve Rogers said his department has increased patrols despite intentionally limiting direct contact with people.

“We’re stressing ‘be seen’ — that’s a big deterrent to crime,” Rogers said.

“We’re here, we’re going to continue to do our job,” he said. “We’re just being as cautious as everyone else in everything we’re doing.”

Ruston firefighters, who also man the ambulance service, are working with their dispatchers to screen people requesting an ambulance for coronavirus symptoms: fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

If the caller has symptoms, the two ambulance personnel who will have contact with the patient don masks, goggles, gloves, and if necessary, gowns.

Patients who are able are asked to meet the EMT’s at the door, RFD Public Education Officer Eric Brazzel said.

The fire department has set up a decontamination station for the ambulances at central station. To the extent possible, the crews are saving their masks and goggles and decontaminating them as well, David Wells, RFD’s emergency medical services director, said.

The department has also made arrangements for off-site quarantine of ambulance crews, if necessary.

But despite the new rules, RFD is still here to help, Brazzel said.

“The Ruston Fire Department and ambulance service is here to provide a service, and we have measures in place to protect our guys as well as the citizens of Ruston,” he said