These are some of the largest police departments in the country, and all are suffering the effects of COVID-19. On a recent Friday, 10% of the New York police force, about 4,111 officers, called in sick as the virus began to move through the ranks. Over 500 personnel of the department have tested positive for the virus, including some top-ranking officials. Detroit’s PD has 20% of its officers under quarantine, while Boston’s former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis expressed what many officers and citizens alike worry about.
“This crisis is unlike any American police forces have dealt with before,” said Davis.
Even smaller, rural police departments are adjusting to the virus. In the West Texas community of Marfa, Police Chief Estevan Marquez says they can’t afford anyone in the department to get sick, so his officers are not to pull over cars for minor traffic infractions.
Whether a police department is a big city organization or a small rural department, there are three primary concerns to address: decreased manpower as officers fall ill, dwindling supplies to protect themselves and the public, and Worker’s Compensation procedures as claims are filed to cover contracting the virus by employees of these departments.
The growing number of officers who are ill and unable to work means decisions have to be made about how (and which) laws should be enforced during this crisis. And most experts agree that things will get worse before they get better. How will departments even continue to function as the virus spreads?
Some solutions have been discussed, with everything from fast-tracking the coursework at police academies to increasing efforts to sanitize patrol cars and decreasing physical contact between officers at roll call and staff meetings. Some other actions that may help are canceling vacations and changing shift schedules and assignments. But will it all be enough?
“I don’t think it’s too far to say that officers are scared out there,” said Sgt. Manny Ramirez, president of Fort Worth Police Officers Association.
To address the second concern, groups representing American police and fire chiefs, sheriffs, mayors, and county leaders asked President Donald Trump in a letter to use the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to ensure they have enough protective gear.
“We’re in war footing against an invisible enemy and we are on the verge of running out” of protective supplies, said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “We’ve got hospitals calling police departments, police departments calling each other, and it’s time to nationalize in terms of our response.”
And finally, what will happen when officers who are sidelined with COVID-10 file a claim for Worker’s Compensation? The coronavirus is not spelled out in the list of covered conditions, which makes many unclear and uncertain about receiving benefits.
“No one really knows,” said Robert Jenkins, president of the Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police union, which covers 22,000 officers.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, based in Washington, D.C., said police can’t just go out of business.
Davis of the Boston PD reflects the worry and uncertainty of officers everywhere. “We’re in unprecedented territory here,” he told the press.
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