HAVERHILL — Residents across the city are largely working from home and adhering to Gov. Charlie Baker's stay-at-home advisory, but for Chief Alan DeNaro's Police Department, it's business as usual to protect Haverhill during the COVID-19 crisis.
DeNaro said criminals don't necessarily take precautions to social distance or wear masks based on government orders.
"Arrests may be down, but that doesn't mean summonses or applying for warrants are down," the chief said. "Just because we didn't put handcuffs on you doesn't mean crime has come to a standstill."
As the coronavirus crisis continues, DeNaro's 104 officers are working to investigate thefts, assaults and burglaries, he said, with the department's narcotics and gang units forging ahead at full tilt in preparation for the warmer weather when gang-related issues typically emerge. Domestic violence incidents are up approximately 20 percent as compared to a three-month period this time last year, the chief said.
"The people who are usually committing those crimes aren't usually the ones following the rules," DeNaro said. "They usually aren't going to follow the 'stay-at-home' rules, either. If they were involved in criminal activity before (the pandemic), they're going to be involved in it during."
While on duty, officers stay as protected as possible by disinfecting their cruisers after calls, DeNaro said. Briefings are now held in the sally port area of the police station and supervisors routinely stress COVID-19 wellness tips during roll call.
One officer recently tested positive for coronavirus, DeNaro said, while several recruits from the police academy at Northern Essex Community College remain in quarantine after being diagnosed with the virus.
"We have some contact, but it's limited," he said. "It it were 10 or 15 years ago, we would have been in big trouble, but technology being what it is today, it's all doable — the justice system can still work."
For DeNaro, in his 18th year as Haverhill's police chief, making things work at all costs is just part of the program.
"We live by the mantra that we're not a police force, we're a police service," he explained. "We don't go in like an occupying army — we're here to help people."
The chief said most Haverhill residents have adhered to various local and state ordinances set forth by Mayor James Fiorentini and the governor. But that's not to say his officers will be, in his words, the "mask police."
"When it comes to health code violations or stores opening when they shouldn't, we direct those to City Hall to the inspections bureau," DeNaro said. "We're not the 'mask police' or 'social-distancing police.' Our officers have been trained in conflict resolution and take pride in our ability to talk and reason with people. We spread the word educationally and haven't had to threaten arrests or issue citations. When you're dealing with a city of 65,000 people in the middle of a crisis, I think that's pretty good."