For months, Carlton County law enforcement officers have dealt with screenings for COVID-19 prior to each shift.

From temperature checks to questionnaires, the measures appear to be succeeding. Carlton County police officers and deputies have remained largely virus-free this fall, despite a spike in cases throughout northeastern Minnesota.

In fact, most of the exposures for members of the Cloquet Police Department have come while at home and not while working, according to chief Derek Randall.

Both the CPD and Carlton County Sheriff’s Office have used video meetings to limit the amount of in-person contact among officers during the pandemic. In addition, the advances in technology have made vehicles mobile offices, further limiting the potential to spread the virus in the event an officer is exposed.

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“There’s not much (deputies) can’t do from their vehicles,” CCSO Lieutenant Dan Danielson said. “Our technology has caught up to where they can function in their vehicles. This would have been more of a challenge 10-15 years ago.”

Danielson also said Carlton County agencies have been a little lucky and have not faced the same staff shortages the Duluth Police Department has faced as cases and exposures within that department climbed.

Thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing patrol cars and equipment after every shift are no longer new tasks, but part of the routine for deputies and police officers in the county.

“It’s been going on so long now, it’s just a way of life — it’s become the new normal,” CCSO Deputy Justin Jokinen said.

Cloquet Police Officer Elijah Haglund wipes down a squad car after a patrol Tuesday, Dec. 1. Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal
Cloquet Police Officer Elijah Haglund wipes down a squad car after a patrol Tuesday, Dec. 1. Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal

Sheriff Kelly Lake said the pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, but her officers have adapted in ways that may make their work more efficient. Meetings can be conducted remotely and some reports can be taken over the phone.

Still, deputies and police officers across the county said they miss working face-to-face with the public.

“I think we realize the importance of that human connection,” Lake said. “Now that we don’t get that as much, you do miss that and you realize how important that is just for well being — for us and for people in general.”

Lake and Randall both stressed while some cases may be dealt with remotely to keep both the people who report an incident and officer safe, if an incident requires an in-person response, the departments will be available to answer the call.

The departments’ dispatch operators try to screen callers to provide responding officers with as much information as possible when going out on a call.

“They ask the caller things that will help the responder know if the person definitely tested positive for COVID or if they have COVID-related symptoms,” Lake said. “Responders are still using their (personal protective equipment), as they would anyway, but they may use a heightened level of PPE — say an N95 mask versus a straight surgical mask — if, for example the person was positive.”

Danielson said the CCSO has also tried to be deliberate about when people are brought to the Carlton County Jail. The jail has intentionally tried to keep the number of people in custody low to allow for space to isolate when they arrive and to keep inmates as distanced as possible. An outbreak in the jail could be devastating not only to those in custody, but could also quickly spread to the deputies who move in and out of the facility on a regular basis.

Domestic violence calls on the rise

Calls coming into the sheriff's office and Cloquet Police Department in 2020 have been at a similar or slightly lower level than they were in 2019. However, the departments are seeing an increase in the number of calls regarding domestic violence.

“We’re dealing with more domestic-type situations, interpersonal stuff,” Randall said. “People are holed up in their house, they’re around people they might not want to be around as long as they have been.”

In 2019, Cloquet police responded to 79 domestic disturbance calls, according to patrol commander David O’Connor. So far in 2020, they have responded to 103 — a more than 30% increase with a month left in the year.

Similarly, the sheriff's office responded to 57 domestic violence calls in 2019 but have seen an increase with 82 calls so far in 2020, a 44% increase. What’s more, five of the 14 people in custody at the Carlton County Jail have domestic violence charges against them.

“There’s a lot of stressors with COVID,” Lake said. “There are health concerns, there’s financial concerns because people have lost their jobs and that, I think contributes to our domestic disturbance calls.”

Signs of domestic abuse

The following may be signs someone is experiencing domestic abuse. Their partner:

  • Tells them they can never do anything right
  • Shows extreme jealousy toward their friends, time spent away
  • Keeps them from seeing friends or family
  • Insults, demeans or shames them
  • Controls money spent in the household
  • Controls who they see, where they go, what they do
  • Threatens to harm or take away their children
  • Prevents them from working or attending school
  • Intimidates them with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Pressures them to have sex when they don't want to
  • Pressures them to use drugs or alcohol

Source: National Domestic Violence Hotline

Where to get help

Gitchigumi Scouts: Call or text 218-464-3082 or message the Gitchigumi Scouts Facebook page.

Day One Crisis Hotline: Call 1-866-223-1111 or text 1-612-399-9995.

Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center: Call 218-728-6481 for the 24-hour crisis line.

Dabinoo’Igan Emergency Domestic Violence Shelter: Call 1-218-722-2247

Strong Hearts Native Helpline: Call 1-844-762-8483 or 1-844-7NATIVE

National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: Call 1-866-331-9474

National Human Trafficking Hotline: Call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733