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Some police departments handling low-priority calls over phone because of COVID-19

Several local law enforcement agencies have said they will not send an officer or deputy to nonemergency situations to limit first responders' potential exposure to COVID-19.

The Sheriff's Offices in Erie and Niagara counties, as well as some police departments, including in the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, have announced the changes to patrol operations.

People experiencing emergencies are still directed to call 911.

"Our response to priority or emergency calls will remain unaffected," the Niagara County Sheriff's Office said in a news release.

But calls that are "nonemergency and not in progress will be screened by the Police Department and may be handled over the phone to limit possible exposure," the North Tonawanda Police Department posted on social media.

In cases that are deemed low-priority or nonemergency, the caller will be asked for their name and phone number and an officer will call the person back, the City of Tonawanda Police Department said.

The Buffalo Police Department has not yet enacted such a change, Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said.

The Niagara County Sheriff's Office said its decision was made after consulting with law enforcement partners throughout the county.

Avoiding face-to-face contact will allow the department to follow recommendations for social distancing, the department said. "If follow-up items are needed with the complainant, we will make arrangements for contact at a later time," the agency said.

Amherst police are still responding to all calls, but officers are being asked to implement social distancing, including staying at least six feet away from others and not entering a person's home, when possible, said Capt. Chris Meyer.

Amherst officers also have been directed to use more discretion in terms of traffic stops, though they will make stops when circumstances may be criminal or if safety is compromised, Meyer said.

In Niagara Falls, the police department announced it is attempting to reduce unnecessary exposure in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The department encourages nonemergency incidents be reported online, through the city's website, niagarafallsusa.org. Under "Quick Links," individuals should click on the link "submit an incident to the police."

Examples of nonemergency situations include credit card fraud, vandalism, identity theft, fraud, social media harassment or vehicle tampering, the department said.

Some law enforcement departments have also announced they are temporarily halting some services, like fingerprinting and car-seat checks.

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