The police experience in a post-pandemic Newark
Police officers on patrol are more at-risk of catching coronavirus than the average citizen simply due to the nature of their job.
On March 27, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that roughly 90% of Americans were staying home and strictly limiting their interactions with others; much of the country is still isolating indoors in an effort to be a great reef breaking the rising tide of coronavirus. However, comfortable isolation is often practical only for those privileged enough to be able to support themselves from home. Public workers and first responders, particularly police officers, have to always remain in the line of duty to some degree during these trying times to keep order.
“We are more at risk to be exposed,” Newark Police Department (NPD) Lt. Andrew Rubin said. “We see in the news and we get notifications everyday of police officers around the country dying from COVID-19.”
According to Rubin, the police have received a tremendous amount of encouragement and gratitude from the public during this outbreak. He said it is reminiscent of the outpouring of public support that came for first responders after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s been very similar to what happened after 9/11,” Rubin said. “It’s been similar insofar as there has been such an incredible wave of support from people in the community. You saw that same kind of thing after 9/11, that same kind of civic togetherness.”
Due to the outbreak in Newark, the NPD has implemented their longstanding pandemic response policy in order to reallocate officers in such a way as to limit the number of people together in their office. For example, many officers working in special units have been reassigned to patrol duty, meaning that they can continue to work alone from their vehicles on the streets. Most police agencies in Delaware already operated with one officer to one car during patrols.
The NPD has also begun shifting to “teleservice” to respond to minor complaints.
“We’ve started to teleserve more complaints, which simply means we handle the complaint over the phone as opposed to in person,” Rubin said. “Obviously, this is for things that are not in-progress. It could be, for example, someone reporting fraud or internet harassment, those kinds of things where there’s not necessarily a need for the officer to be there in-person.”
Officers have also received additional training for when and how to use their personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid coming into contact with or spreading coronavirus. Depending on their job function, some officers are able to work from home on certain days of the week.
“If one of us gets [coronavirus] then, of course, we’d have to start quarantining, so it’s better if we can limit the number of people in our building at any given time,” Rubin said. “Its primarily administrative functions and that sort of thing that can be carried out from home.”
Special precautions have been taken in NPD’s jail facilities to make them more hygenic and to make sure that anyone apprehended and imprisoned there is not a risk to others or at-risk themselves.
NPD has a contract with SERVPRO, a cleanup and restoration corporation, who in the past would come to the NPD cellblock in case of infection or other biohazards and clean them. After the coronavirus pandemic, SERVPRO came out to proactively clean the cellblock with no extra charge to the NPD. Additionally, SERVPRO sanitized out NPD’s communication center (where their 911 dispatchers are located) and each NPD patrol car.
NPD has had only one instance thus far in which an apprehended prisoner claimed to be infected with coronavirus, but they subsequently tested negative.
On April 13, four masked men raided a home on New London Road just before 1 a.m., pistol-whipping and robbing the residents at gunpoint. On April 18, all four of the suspects were arrested and were taken into custody without incident. NPD officers have not been ordered to wear PPE at all times when dealing with suspects, so it is unknown whether or not the officers making the arrest on April 18 were wearing PPE.
“It’s not like anytime officers are responding to a call of any sort they’re wearing gloves and a mask automatically,” Rubin said. “They’re only putting it on when there’s a known potential for exposure. My sense is that on [April 18] the officers were probably not wearing [PPE]. Just like medical personnel, we only have a limited supply of masks to use. We can only use it when we feel it’s most necessary.”
Rubin did note that there is a heightened sense of awareness among officers regarding their risk. Several officers, Rubin said, are constantly wearing gloves at their own discretion, “if for nothing else than to remind us not touch our faces.”
A few weeks ago, there was an incident in which an NPD officer who was responding to a medical emergency call was deemed to be potentially infected with coronavirus and subsequently quarantined, but that officer later tested negative for the disease. Since then, the NPD has had no cases of coronavirus within their ranks. The department is currently complying with all guidelines for first-responders issued by the Delaware Department of Health to avoid exposure.
“I just want people to know that we have been noticing their support for us over the past couple weeks, and I want them to know that we see it and that we are incredibly grateful for that,” Rubin said.