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More police are getting coronavirus, that could be bad news for public safety in the US

U赢电竞竞猜After a reserve police officer in San Jose, California, tested positive for coronavirus last week, 20 of his colleagues were quarantined. Another 10 full-time employees from the police department’s family violence unit were also asked to stay home.

U赢电竞竞猜“You can imagine. Just this one incident could create an issue with regards to investigations of those real high-profile domestic violence, child abuse cases,” said Sgt. Paul Kelly, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association.

U赢电竞竞猜Then there's the worst-case scenario, Kelly said, where the coronavirus pandemic depletes the police force of one of the largest cities in California. Police officials in San Jose and elsewhere warn that detectives, administrative and special operations staff may have to put on uniforms and respond to 911 calls, taking time away from major investigations.

Across the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic has confronted police departments big and small with difficult questions about how to keep a functioning police force if fewer personnel are able to report to work. Worried that officers will fall sick, departments are urging officers to limit their interactions with the public – a fundamental change in policing in the country.

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“The next two to four weeks is critical in how we battle this epidemic,” said Robert Bongiorno, police chief of Bedford, Massachusetts, a town of about 14,000 people. 

U赢电竞竞猜Bongiorno is preparing to lose nearly half of his small police force to quarantines and actual sickness. His total staff: 41. 

“You can literally wipe out an entire platoon of officers if you didn’t know whether someone really tested positive or not,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, or PERF, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that conducts research and consulting for agencies. “Having someone sit at home for 14 days, two weeks, is a huge loss for a department. Huge. This is keeping officers safe and in service.”

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U赢电竞竞猜In some jurisdictions, like San Jose, county officials have approved priority testing for officers and other first responders who show symptoms of coronavirus. But because of a nationwide shortage in testing kits, that’s not the case everywhere. 

“We believe this policy needs to be implemented everywhere,” Kelly said. “We’re not special because we’re cops. We’re special because we need to get tested because we’re first responders. 

“First responders cannot shelter in place,” Kelly added. “All of us have to do our jobs, and our families have to deal with that. The last thing we need is law enforcement who’s trying to help people to be exposing them because we don’t know that (we’re) carrying the virus.”

New York State Police and Westchester County Police stop cars at the entrance to Glen Island Park in New Rochelle, New York, March 14, 2020. The park is the location for mobile testing of the coronavirus.

Supplies and coronavirus testing are scarce 

In New York City — one of the hardest-hit places in the country — the number of sick officers is rising, although not dramatically, said New York Police Department spokesman Richard Esposito. 

About 5% of the city’s police force, which totals 55,000 uniformed officers and civilians, have gotten sick, although only about 35 have tested positive as of Friday. Esposito said that number will grow. 

U赢电竞竞猜Officials are in the process of making drive-through testing available for officers with symptoms, NYPD Assistant Chief James Essig said in a message to PERF that was included in the organization's daily newsletter. Officials are also concerned about having enough masks and sanitizing gels for police officers. "We run out of those items very quickly," Essig wrote.

Last week, the city’s police union filed a complaint with the New York State Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau saying the department has failed to provide adequate protective equipment and training to its officers. 

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"First and foremost, we are providing for the safety and education of our members. Supplies can be scarce as a crisis unfolds, but we are doing our utmost to ensure personal protective gear is in the hands of the members of our department," Esposito said in an email to USA TODAY.

In Chicago, only 40 officers who are part of specialized response teams are able to wear airtight masks each day because of a nationwide shortage, said Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. 

U赢电竞竞猜“Until we get to a point where we can put a mask in every officer’s hand, we had to change our protocols and delineate those types of calls to our specialized response teams,” Guglielmi said.

In Miami, where 59 officers had to be quarantined after the city’s mayor tested positive of coronavirus, test kits had not been enough, said Jorge Colina, chief of the Miami Police Department.

U赢电竞竞猜“We have gotten cooperation from our health department, but they really just didn’t have the ability (to test) upfront,” Colina said. “We have had officers tested. Not all, but some. The issue becomes the length of time to get the results back.”

A police officer and a woman are visible wearing protective masks near a tent, set up outside of St. Vincent Hospital emergency room on March 17, 2020 in New York City.

U赢电竞竞猜Twenty of those 59 officers are now back to work, but Colina said the worst is yet to come. 

U赢电竞竞猜“My fear is when it gets to a point where we don’t have enough (officers),” he said. “We’re going to have officers that are going to be ill. The amount of interaction is inevitable.”

The Miami Police Department has now set up health screenings that test each officer’s temperature every day. Those who aren’t showing symptoms are given color-coded wrist bands. Those who are get sent home. 

In Los Angeles, at least nine police department employees have tested positive for coronavirus as of Monday. A spokesman said the department has a doctor on call who helps evaluate possible exposures of officers, who are then asked to get tested through their own healthcare provider if they have been exposed.

In Detroit, a police department employee diedU赢电竞竞猜 after being infected of the virus. Nine police officers have tested positive and nearly 300 are on quarantine as of Monday.

Change in policing because of coronavirus

U赢电竞竞猜To avoid shrinking their police departments, agencies across the country have significantly changed how officers do their jobs. Policing in the middle of the pandemic means having as little interaction with the public and with fellow officers as possible. 

Many agencies have asked the public to report minor violations, including some property crimes, online. Officers are asked to issue citations or summonses for nonviolent crimes, in part to not add to populations in jails, where social distancing is not an option and hygiene products are limited. 

In Bellevue, Washington, dispatchers screen 911 callers for flu-like symptoms. If they have any, officers show up in full protective gear – and only in serious and life-threatening situations.

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“We are engaging the public in different ways than we normally do. We are fighting an enemy that is invisible … and that creates anxiety for everybody,” said Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett. “We don’t want to catch it. We don’t want to get it on our clothes. We don’t want to take it home to our families.”

U赢电竞竞猜In Portland, Oregon, every member of the police bureau has been told they may have to respond to service calls, said Police Chief Jami Resch. Absent a public safety threat, officers are taking reports by phone instead of in person. If officers have to go to scenes, they talk to people from outside of their homes, Resch said. 

The rule of thumb: Don’t arrest or touch someone unless you absolutely need to.

Beyond the heightened uncertainty that now comes with the job are the officers’ personal fears. Tasheba Pratt, a patrol officer in Miami, said her major concern was her elderly parents. Her father will be 80 this year and has a number of health issues. Her mother has dementia. 

U赢电竞竞猜“It could be tough. I have really strong faith,” Pratt said. “I pray every morning. I pray for my fellow officers.” 

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