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OPD on GBD: policing a ghost town

Last year, senior Kelsey Haver and her friends awoke at midnight to celebrate Green Beer Day (GBD). They went to a fraternity party, made green pancakes and went back out to party in the afternoon. 

This year, they spent the beginning of March 19, this year’s GBD, hoping to watch the sunrise from Haver’s apartment rooftop at 6 a.m. After a few hours — there wasn’t much of a sunrise that day — they walked uptown to Bagel & Deli after placing their orders online and had to go inside to pick up their orders one at a time. 

When Haver and her friends were leaving the nearly empty restaurant, a man approached them and said they were the first GBD people he’d seen that day. 

“We had glitter and headband stuff and things like that on for Green Beer Day, and shirts, and he was like ‘it’s actually really sad,’” Haver said. 

After classes moved online in light of the novel coronavirus, countless students packed up and dispersed to all corners of the country, leaving Oxford much quieter than usual. The man at Bagel & Deli was one of many who commented on the difference. 

Oxford Police Department (OPD) even posted a tweet on March 19, writing, “Never thought we would see High Street so empty before Spring Break...hoping things get back to normal soon. #GBD2020 #COVID19.” 

The post was accompanied by two pictures of High Street, scattered with a handful of cars and not a person in sight.

***

A few days later, on March 23, Ohio governor Mike DeWine issued a mandated stay-at-home order that required all non-essential businesses and operations to close. The Oxford Police Department (OPD), an essential operation, remains open and is continually evolving to meet the new guidelines. 

OPD lieutenant Lara Fening has had to reallocate certain tasks and responsibilities, one of which is cleaning the cruisers and work areas because there isn’t enough time for the one custodian to complete the continual cleaning required to help prevent coronavirus from spreading. 

OPD has also just introduced a new online reporting system, and though Fening says the number of reports has gone down, this doesn’t eliminate the need for police involvement. 

“You have to get hands-on and you have to get close,” Fening said. “There is no getting around the risk in police work when it comes to being exposed to stuff.”

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In light of the recent stay-at-home order, on March 24, OPD sent out a notification on Nixle (a platform that sends updates and alerts from schools and local public safety departments) discussing the order and asking people to direct any questions they have to the Butler County General Health District. 

The notification talks about the importance of thoughtful reporting, asking citizens to “use restraint and common sense before calling to report another citizen whose activity you may believe does not comply with the stay at home order.” Fening is expecting that people will be reporting others, but she explains that the police department will be enforcing the law, not the opinions of individuals. 

OPD is working with the public, helping them adjust to a new normal where a police officer might ask them to stay on their porch or in their car to communicate, rather than approaching them directly. OPD is also working with its own staff, encouraging them to take care of themselves by rotating who is working from home, which helps ensure a group of healthy officers is available. 

“We don’t want [the public] to feel uncomfortable,” Fening said. “We don’t want to catch anything from them. We don’t want them to catch anything from us. It should be a mutual understanding, I suppose.”

OPD, just like everyone else, has had to adjust to this new normal. It has been lonely in Oxford, Fening says, but it’s something she’s happy about because it means most people are following guidelines. 

***

Even before the stay-at-home order, on GBD last week, uptown was quiet. There were no lines stretching out of Brick Street Bar & Grill. There were no queues spilling out of Bagel & Deli. There were parking spots available. Sidewalks were nearly empty.

And since it was raining, Haver and her friends spent the remainder of their senior GBD indoors, playing games, listening to music and just trying to keep things normal. 

However, for police officers and students alike, the day was anything but normal. Fening drove through High Street a few times and said she came across only a few people.

“They didn’t look like they were partying,” Fening said. “They tried. I think they were trying to get the ‘experience,’ but there was nobody else...it was an eerie ghost town. It was weird.” 

dattilec@miamioh.edu 

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