One in Six New York Police Officers is Sick or in Quarantine
New York City is one of the places hit hardest by the coronavirus, and police officers there are taking a huge blow. Now, nearly 17 percent of officers are sick or in quarantine.
The coronavirus has strained the New York City police department immensely—and some are calling it a “worst case scenario.”
According to a New York Times article, one out of every six New York City police officers is sick or in quarantine. A veteran detective and seven civilian workers have died from the virus. What does this mean in terms of scale? That means nearly 1,500 individuals in the New York City police department have been infected.
Experts still think the virus is two weeks away from “peaking” (in numbers) for New York City, and the city’s enforcement officers are strained. Not only are they asked to help enforce emergency rules intended to slow the viruses’ spread around the city, but thousands from its 36,000-person department have been infected by the virus.
The epidemic has also added a new level of risk and anxiety to police work. Even though the rate of serious crimes has steeply dropped since the city’s new rules, every arrest or interview carries the potential for infection, said the officers.
“It’s a stressful job at the best of times,” the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said on Tuesday. “Right now, I don’t think you can imagine a worse point of time.”
The New York City police department is not the only police department struggling. Across the country, departments are facing similar challenges. For example, in Detroit, five officers are quarantined and about 40 officers are or have been infected.
Still, the case count in the New York department trumps the dozens of cases reported in other big-city police departments and sheriffs offices, like those in Houston and Los Angeles.
Last Thursday alone, 6,498 New York officers called in sick—about 18 percent of the state’s force—with most of them reporting flu-like symptoms. The numbers have been climbing for weeks.
In Manhattan, a third of officers in two precincts (the 30th in Harlem and the 33rd in Washington Heights) were out sick this week. Dozens more were out from the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx—one of the city’s highest crime rates.
This has become a dire situation for New York law enforcements, and police commanders in the state have begun taking pages from disaster plans designed for blackouts, hurricanes and terror attacks, and officials are making revisions by the hours.
Even in Washington D.C., police departments have responded with an “urgent S.O.S.” The White House has arranged shipments of 4,000 Tyvek suits for homicide detectives processing suspected COVID-19 deaths and 6,000 gallons on hand sanitizer.
Still, the state of New York seems to be trying to address the problem in some areas but not others. Security officers around New York City have been posted outside precincts to screen people entering in an effort to minimize foot traffic, and face masks are being used in some precinct station houses. Some commanders have moved their daily roll calls outdoors so officers can spread out. Officers on patrol are carrying N95 masks to wear if they feel endangered.
Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo has promised to send state police, if necessary, to fill in for sick officers. However, Commissioner Shea has declined the offer for now, saying that he does not see a need yet—officers are being asked to work 12-hour shifts to over staff shortages.
Calls to police have decreased in the area, but paramedics and other first responders are seeing a record surge in emergency calls, said the article. There have also been no parades or large gathering.
Since imposing emergency rules, reports of the seven most serious crimes—like rape, robbery and assault—have dropped to about 187 a day, compared with about 267 a day in the 11 days before the rules went into effect. Nobody is on the street, and that’s been a huge help to the department.
Still, even with this decrease in calls, the department has the virus and its consequences to deal with. Nearly 700 officers have been assigned to enforce Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new social-distancing rules. That has pulled officers from specialized assignments, like film and narcotics, onto patrol. Some of the department’s most sensitive work has been slowed by the virus, and more than half of the special victims squad in Queens is sick or in quarantine. Precinct domestic violence officers have also curtailed visits to homes with histories of complaints.
Most of the department’s civilian staff are working from home—an unprecedented move for the department. The offices inside Police Headquarters have been reduced to skeletal staff.
To make matters worse, police officers are not trained in public health. Police work is for crime and danger, and their lack of public health training puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus, researchers say. So far, almost four percent of the force has tested positive, and the number increased sevenfold last week.
“When a cop is patrolling, they have to go into homes, they have to go into stores, they experience a whole different world of environments,” said Timothy Akers, an assistant vice president at Morgan State University in Baltimore who studies the emerging field of epidemiological criminology.
Yet, there exists another issue with all of this: protective equipment like masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectants have become a point of contention. Police officials say the department has a sufficient supply of respirator masks, gloves and disinfectants, but it has had to ask officers to use the equipment sparingly.
This limited supply of protective equipment has caused the police department to stretch what they have—and hold onto things like empty hand sanitizer bottles. Police union leaders say the limited supply is due in part because equipment was not appropriately distributed in the early days of the crisis.
In recent days, the department has distributed more supplies and accepted donations from large charities and local businesses. Still, things “aren’t moving fast enough,” said Ed Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association.
While New York City—and the world—continues to scramble to adapt and prepare and react to this outbreak, the New York Times showcased one important message from the relative of the veteran officer who died from the virus:
“People need to understand that this is real,” she said. “Please stay home.”