COVID-19 Information Center
When COVID-19 first hit the headlines, the American Association of Code Enforcement Officers and other associations issued statements encouraging no interior inspections and being safe doing your job. While many government agencies allowed people to work from home, typically Code Enforcement Officers still reported for work in some capacity to help with regulations and life safety. Self certification of compliance via photographs, facetime, and other electronic means were utilized in lieu of in-person inspections.
Remember, no regulation is worth your life! If you are tasked with enforcing your states regulations, be willing to back out if tensions rise with a business owner. Ask for help from the police or teammates so that you are not alone. Yes, we have a job to do, but being considerate of those you are taking action against will help keep aggressive behavior at bay. We all want to go home at the end of the shift to our families. Even if you only do education and outreach, it can still present hostile interactions. Pick up on signs that your interaction is going south and back away. You can always come back or send a letter.
We must stress the importance of reporting incidents. Thank you to the officers across the country that have started reporting incidents of all types to our website. Your information is kept private except state, type, and brief description of incident. This helps build the statistics other Code Enforcement Officers look at and what associations use to help push for new legislation. Help our profession by taking one minute to submit an incident report. Be safe out there and know there are thousands of Code Enforcement Officers here to support you!
There are two major types of threats to Code Enforcement Officers and Health Inspectors enforcing COVID regulations. The first is exposure to the virus. By assigning Code Enforcement Officers to go into businesses to shut them down or enforce people not wearing masks, you are putting employees at risk. The goal for an Officer should be to do as much as possible by email, phone, and letters. Always wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, and keep your distance (also good for officer safety).
Secondly, Officers are exposed to physical harm. See the articles below of incidents where Code Enforcement Officers were punched, blocked in, threatened, and even hit with a car. News outlets are starting to report these incidents and what Code Enforcement Officers are facing. Helpful ways to mitigate this include teaming up with Police or Sheriff and having protective defensive tools. This includes body armor, pepper spray, police radio, and proper PPE to prevent exposure.
Decision makers and risk managers need to think the enforcement strategy through. Are you asking Code Enforcement Officers and Inspectors to expose themselves to greater harm by not providing the necessary equipment and resources? Think about how your agency will handle the COVID related complaints. If you assign staff to go into the field to enforce the emergency regulations, are they properly equipped to handle the task? Are they safe from exposure and assault? A simple search on Google will show how emotions are flaring and businesses owners are not happy with the shutdowns and mask requirements.
In The Headlines
In 2020 we also lost a colleague due to COVID-19 on June 1st - Residential Code Enforcement Officer Hugo Rojas from Milwaukee, WI.
I received a threat via email from an unknown party in response to an email I sent to all restaurant owners in our downtown area regarding Covid-19 Compliance with our local County Health Order. The email threat stated: “If you are going to be downtown, you'd better bring an army if you are going to screw with us!" The email address it came from was not included on the original recipient list so it is unknown at this time how the mystery person obtained the original email. Given the growing tension between private business owners and local enforcement authorities, the Police Department was notified and an officer was assigned to investigate further. The investigation is ongoing, so no other details are available at this time.
Associated Risks with COVID Assignments
On 11/28/20 at approximately 2110 hours I was charged by a mentally unstable individual while conducting Covid-19 compliance. The individual was detained by police and transported to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. As I was walking through the downtown area in uniform, conducting Covid-19 compliance, I encountered an individual kneeling at the base of a light post with a lit cigarette lighter. I said "Hello sir. How are you doing tonight?" as I walked by him. He immediately jumped to his feet and began advancing towards me while yelling obscenities at me. As I retreated, I ordered him to stop at which time he stated he was "sick and tired of being harassed by the FBI" along with a few other nonsense statements. I attempted to de-escalate the situation by calmly talking to him after I radioed for assistance, but it had no effect. I radioed dispatch again to advise that I was leaving the area as the individual was clearly becoming increasingly irate. As I was leaving, police units arrived on scene and detained the individual. After a short interview, the officers decided the individual met the criteria for a psychiatric evaluation and transported him to the proper county facility. I went back to the light pole where the individual was kneeling and found that the decorations attached to the light pole had been burned and partially melted and the electrical outlet had been tampered with.
Refuse to Comply
Code Officers enforcing COVID restrictions made contact with a 69 year old male. He claimed to be retired LEO and armed. He refused to comply and Police were called.
Code Enforcement Officer Punched
A Code Enforcement Officer enforcing COVID-19 regulations was punched in the face.
Contact with Mentally Ill
While working a weekend night shift enforcing COVID restrictions, Code Officer was confronted by a mentally ill individual. He was able to call for help on his Police radio and subject was taken for 5150.
Code Enforcement Officer Hit by Car
A Code Enforcement Officer cited a nail salon for being open in violation of the emergency regulations. As he was walking out into the parking lot, the nail salon owner began yelling at him and then eventually hit him with her car.