COVID-19 casualties rise among law enforcement officers
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
As COVID-19 continues to spread, social distancing and stay-at-home orders have remained in effect across the vast majority of the country. But healthcare professionals on the front lines continue to fight and help stem the pandemic. They are also most vulnerable to contracting the virus.
Like them, law enforcement personnel in police departments and sheriffs’ offices remain at risk. They have been hit hard by the pandemic and are witnessing increases in infections and fatalities within their ranks. More than 50 law enforcement officers have died after contracting the virus; the numbers are rising each week.
COVID-19 has changed the nature of their jobs. Along with maintaining law and order, law enforcement organizations are now responsible for imposing shelter-in-place and social distancing measures. The pandemic puts them at risk of contracting the virus as they try to strike a balance between public safety, protecting civilians, maintaining public health, and protecting themselves.
New York City, which has the most COVID-19 cases in the country, has witnessed 29 officer deaths. Department officials have directed all personnel to wear black mourning bands across their shields in the fallen officers’ honor.
The latest reported statistics show that more than 4,000 employees of the NYPD have tested positive for COVID-19; about 15% of the workforce was out sick as of April 19. Law enforcement officers in nearby New Jersey have been hit hard as well.
As they prepare to combat COVID 19 outbreaks in their communities, police departments and other law enforcement organizations across the country are trying to learn from the police forces in New York and New Jersey.
In the Midwest, Chicago and Detroit are both facing a sharp rise in cases. As of April 17, about 300 members of the Chicago Police Department have tested positive for COVID-19, and three officers have died after contracting the virus. Chicago PD is prioritizing infection control protocols within police facilities. It is also trying to minimize the number of arrests and pedestrian stops to limit contact and slow down the spread of the virus.
Officers going down is a matter of huge national concern. The personnel shortage crisis and low application rates have already been plaguing agencies. The rise in COVID cases and more officers out of commission puts an added strain on them and raises the risk of crime.
Thankfully, since social distancing started, crime rates have dropped significantly in most places, minimizing the need for patrols. Illinois reported a 30% decrease in 911 calls in March due to the statewide shelter-in-place order. Detroit PD also said that they had seen a small decline in crime since the crisis began.
Officers need more and better protection to do their jobs. Personal protective gear like masks and gloves are in short supply in most states, and they need these urgently. Personal safety kits for field officers to protect themselves from the dangers of exposure to the novel coronavirus are the need of the hour. They can be mindful of their hygiene and cross-contamination, but without the right protective gear, they are risking their health every day.
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