The Lehigh University Police Department has adapted its practices to ensure the protection and safety of students, officers and the surrounding South Bethlehem community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The precautions start from within. Before entering the station, each officer completes the Lehigh COVID-19 Self-Assessment on the HawkWatch App and shows their results to their supervisor, said Lora Martin, a crime prevention officer for LUPD.
Martin said upon arrival at the station, which is limited to one entrance, all LUPD employees wear face coverings and have their temperatures taken. Before screening, the officers are required to maintain a six-foot distance between all employees.
Martin said employees are given the option to use a laundry service or bring their uniforms home for washing. Each officer is supplied several types of masks, latex gloves, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers. Each patrol unit is wiped down prior to patrolling.
In addition to changes in the station, officers have been given guidelines to minimize unnecessary contact for the safety of the community, differentiating the processes for handling non-emergency situations versus emergency situations. Martin said when officers interact with the general public, however, that officer will wear a face mask and maintain six feet of distance whenever possible.
“When you call into our dispatch center, the dispatcher has a checklist and he or she may ask you certain questions about your symptoms,” Martin said. “We will handle the situation according to whether our officers wear additional personal protective equipment or the officer will take the report over the phone to keep each other safe.”
LUPD Chief Jason Schiffer spoke with The Brown and White about the police department’s role in enforcing social distancing on-campus and what he’s noticed in off-campus life so far this semester.
Schiffer said he hopes enforcing social distancing does not become a “police versus student” situation, but rather one in which students, faculty, staff and officers do their part to promote accountability to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“We are trying not to be the bad guy in the enforcement of the policies,” Schiffer said. “We want to be partners on campus, along with everyone here, to share in the responsibility of holding each other accountable to adhere to the safety guidelines.”
“If we want to make it through November, we have to work together.”
-Lehigh Police Chief Jason Schiffer
Schiffer added in an email that positive reinforcement is the right way to handle this situation. He said officers are carrying coupons for free milkshakes at Hawk’s Nest and coffee from The Grind at FML to hand out to students who are wearing masks and social distancing.
Schiffer said students seem to be wearing masks on campus, but wearing masks more diligently in the surrounding neighborhoods could be improved.
In terms of student parties, groups have been small and outdoors, he said.
“I think we are doing really well right now. We have all seen these examples from other universities of students ignoring all mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines,” Schiffer said. “It’s not like we are seeing anything like the videos at other schools with raging parties where everybody is crammed into one spot.”
Schiffer said there has not been an increase in calls regarding parties taking place on or near campus compared to past semesters.
Matthew Hom, ‘22, is living off-campus and said he hopes students can respect the school’s policies while doing their part to keep the community healthy.
“Being off campus surrounded by friends allows us the opportunity to have a sense of community as we endure a particularly trying period of our lives while also being safe and respectful of school rules and the Bethlehem community,” Hom said.
Schiffer clarified that while not following the Lehigh COVID guidelines “isn’t necessarily illegal” and arrests aren’t being made for “not following the Code of Conduct,” there are other ways for the university to hold students accountable to the health guidelines. Lehigh’s Office of Student Conduct has opened over 100 COVID-related conduct cases regarding potential health violations.
Overall, Shiffer said he is pleased by how seriously students seem to be taking the COVID-19 guidelines implemented by the university.
“It’s a struggle. Everything’s different…We can’t expect perfection, but we can shoot for it and see where we end up,” Shiffer said. “If we want to make it through November, we have to work together.”