COVID-19 and the Law… EPD Chief Shaw says pandemic brings changes, no decrease in crime

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, April 2, 2020

With everything going on surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been changes in all areas of life from the youngest to the oldest. And with the initiatives announced recently by local governments and Gov. Bill Lee in regard to Stay At Home, one would think that those associated with the police profession might have an opportunity to take a breath here locally.
However, according to Elizabethton Police Chief Jason Shaw, little has changed from criminal activity that his officers are dealing with on a daily basis.
“I have not seen any notable decline in criminal activity,” Shaw responded. “The only difference at this time that has been noticeable has been some reduction in vehicle crashes and reckless driving reports.
“I think this is due to less traffic on the roads. We have a feature through our tip 411 system that provides a crime map. This shows on a map where some crimes are reported. There is a link to this on our webpage at
“Also I urge people to be aware of scams,” Shaw continued. “As always, there will be criminals on the phone and on the internet, trying to take advantage of the situation and scam people out of money.
“No one from the City, County, State, or Federal government or any utility or bank is going to call you, or email you, or otherwise message you and need any of your personal information or bank information over the internet or phone.  If they request it, hang up or do not respond to the message or email.”
Although criminal activity hasn’t seen a reduction, there have been other areas that Shaw along with Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford and the courts have worked on to make sure necessary jail space is available for those deemed to be needing incarceration.
“Things seem to change almost every day,” stated Shaw. “One of the big changes operationally is the reduction of service of misdemeanor warrants such as violations of probation and for failure to appear in court.
“This is a strategy developed between the sheriff’s department, the courts, and us in an effort to reduce the jail population to allow precautionary measures in response to the pandemic. This will ensure there is room in the jail for those that need to be there or those that need to go.
“What we want everyone else to know is we continue to be out working and we have been and we will continue to arrest individuals that need to be arrested for crimes of violence, felonies, offenses that are necessary for the safety of someone or the safety of the public, and arrests that are needed to keep order,” Shaw added.
Shaw admits that the pandemic hasn’t done anything to change how he personally leads his department.
He did go on to say that everything is being done as much as possible to ensure that his officers are protected from coming in contact with the COVID-19 virus.
 “Last week we closed the lobby at the police department and the Criminal Investigation Division to the public. Officers are following the CDC guidelines for law enforcement that include social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing,” Shaw said in reference to the safety measures.
“Officers have gloves, hand sanitizer, and an n95 mask. Supervisors have the authority to allow officers to answer some calls for service incidents that do not require an on-scene investigation over the telephone.
“Officers are only making contact with people when needed and trying to reduce going into residences unless absolutely necessary,” Shaw continued. “911 dispatchers are our first line of defense and we greatly appreciate their help because they are asking 911 callers questions regarding any symptoms or being around anyone with symptoms.
“If callers report symptoms, 911 can alert officers to use extra precautions on that scene.”
With schools being out for entering their third week, the officers that were assigned to the city schools have been pulled back and reassigned during the school closures.
This has been an added benefit to Shaw and his department in regard to manpower, especially in the event that his officers were to potentially become infected.
“It has been helpful,” added Shaw. “The officers that were assigned as SRO’s have been re-assigned now to help not only on patrol but support services and CID.
“We are doing our best to separate our work units with social distance within the police department to ensure we can continue to provide our services should we have officers and any of our professional staff become sick.
“With our lobby being closed to the public, paper copies of reports are not being given until we can re-open,” Shaw stated. “Copies of police and crash reports can still be obtained by emailing
“If you do not have an email, your insurance company can obtain a report from us on your behalf. Please call 542-4141 for questions or non-emergency issues.”
Shaw was asked should there go out a mandate if the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies in the local area and state for all people to remain at home or face criminal charges, how hard it would be police to enforce such a mandate.
“This would be very difficult. I personally believe the ‘Safer At Home’ orders in place at this time is a common-sense approach,” commented Shaw.
“Right now our police officers can assume that folks that are out are conducting ‘essential business’ as defined in the orders unless the officer receives or develops information that they are not.
“We will take a reasonable approach to enforcement actions and hope that everyone will take the personal responsibility to abide by the orders,” Shaw continued. “Violations of the Safer At Home orders may be more suited to be reported through our tip411 system than by calling 911.
“We can get the tips anonymously through that system, but this system is not monitored at all times and is not intended to be used when an officer is needed right away or in emergencies.”

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