The new coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to wreak havoc across DFW. Businesses are sending workers home. City officials are holding press conferences, banning large gatherings, and urging people to practice safe social distancing. Concerts and events are being canceled. Higher education is extending spring break and moving all classes online.

But soon, those students will be returning from spring break, and with the recent reports of presumptive positive tests for the coronavirus, Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner warns he may be forced to take steps to reduce the number of people coming to the Collin County Detention Facility, Skinner wrote in March 11 letter to local officials in Collin County.

More than 50 people a day, he wrote, enter the county jail.

“I ask you to use your best judgment on arrests and transports to the county jail. Would you arrest if you and your staff had to take custody of and care for the person? You may decide that an arrest isn’t necessary to protect public safety in the case of a Class C misdemeanor or a non-violent offense, if a citation in lieu of arrest will serve. Similarly, you may decide that an officer who confirms an out-of-jurisdiction warrant for a minor traffic, driver’s license, or non-violent offense may serve the public interest by making extra efforts to gather residence and work-address information and leaving an arrest to the warrant process. Is a victim pressing charges? Or does your officer have more discretion under the circumstances? I understand that sometimes a peace officer will decide that a person poses a sufficient risk to public safety to justify an arrest and trip to jail—even if the current charge appears minor. I am not trying to restrict your officers’ proper exercise of discretion.” 

Skinner claimed he wouldn’t refuse admission to people who are arrested and meet the standards for incarceration. 

“But the day may come when circumstances force me to consider additional measures to protect public safety and the [county jail’s] safe operation,” he wrote. 

McKinney Mayor George Fuller told Local Profile, “With confirmed cases of COVID-19 surfacing in our jail system, I understand and support the Sheriff’s request for scrutinizing discretion concerning low-level crime arrests.”

The county jail does have contingency plans in place to address detainees who may exhibit COVID-19 symptoms as well as internal procedures designed to minimize the exposure to the general inmate population, Capt. Nicol Bristow, Collin County Sheriff’s Office’s field operations supervisor, wrote in March 14 email. 

Bristow said he isn’t able to discuss specifics about their jail operations because of security concerns. 

“Sheriff Skinner has asked all Collin County law enforcement officials to consider citing class “C misdemeanors as opposed to arrest,” Bristow said. 

“As expected and in typical form, our local law enforcement partners have supported this request.” 

Story updated with comment from the McKinney mayor. 

Christian has been working as a freelance journalist in North Texas for more than a decade. His stories have appeared in the Dallas Observer, the Houston Press, and Rolling Stone magazine. He covers a...