FILE - Director Brendan Kelly, Illinois State Police, 10-28-20

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly speaks at a news conference on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.

(The Center Square) – A study shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected police departments around Illinois and will continue to for years to come.

The Western Illinois University Law Enforcement and Justice Administration surveyed more than 200 Illinois police departments last year.

After getting results from 73 out of 200 departments, the study’s researchers replicated the same study in Missouri and Ohio and received a total of 200 responses.

“The survey results indicate that COVID-19 has significantly affected both the internal and external operations of these states’ police departments,” LEJA Professor Niyazi Ekici said. “These ramifications are particularly profound as they relate to safety measures and risk mitigation strategies implemented to protect police personnel and the public they serve.”

In addition to the usual safety concerns, like the potential for violent encounters, 61% said the virus added another layer of risk.

“Anxiety regarding disease transmission from the public or during other workplace interactions, and the practical requirements of social distancing could reduce efficiency and effectiveness of policing to some degree,” Ekici said.

According to a Stars and Stripes report, in the first half of this year, 71 U.S. law enforcement officers died from COVID-19, which is just under the 76 who died during the same period in 2020. In all of 2020, 241 law enforcement officers died from COVID-19.

Many departments, 82%, indicated they suspended police training academies during the pandemic. Combine the lack of incoming recruits with staff reductions and budgetary pressures due to pandemic protocols in place, officer burnout and a decline in morale are cited in the study.

Illinois State Police are dealing with the recent suicide death of a trooper on a highway in Chicago.

“While we take on all these very difficult challenging tasks, we have to take care of their mental health we have to take care of their wellness, and it can’t be mental versus physical health, it is just health,” said ISP Director Brendan Kelly.

Compared to Illinois’ 78%, the state of Missouri decreased its enforcement actions during the pandemic by 66%. While, on average, the decrease of law enforcement actions was 73% in the three states, Missouri’s reductions in actions appear to be aggressive compared to Illinois and Ohio.

“In summary, this study shows that the consequences of COVID-19 on Illinois, Ohio and Missouri law enforcement agencies were significant,” the authors concluded. “How long these changes in protocols and viewpoints of police will endure depending on the potency and length of the pandemic.”

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.