M.L. Elrick, Tresa Baldas and Gina Kaufman
Detroit Free Press
More than 150 Detroit police are quarantined — with one precinct hit especially hard — but Detroit Police Chief James Craig says the novel coronavirus has not affected the department’s ability to do its job.
“I’ve not seen anything like this,” Craig said, later adding, “If that number were to double, I would become certainly increasingly concerned.”
The city’s website says Detroit has 2,200 police officers.
In addition to the officers, six members of the Detroit Fire Department are in isolation and none have tested positive, said John Roach, Mayor Mike Duggan’s spokesman.
In a sign of how serious the chief takes social distancing, he met with a limited number of reporters and photographers at police headquarters after remotely swearing in police academy graduates via laptop.
“This is one of the most challenging times in American history, and especially for our first responders,” Craig told the newly minted police officers. “You are the class being sworn into one of the biggest crises in American history.”
Craig said five of the 152 police officers and supervisors under quarantine tested positive for COVID-19. One police contractor also tested positive. City spokesman John Roach said there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the fire department. He did not know whether any firefighters or EMTs had been quarantined.
Craig said the manpower shortage has not affected police services, though police have been given more discretion whether to pursue some misdemeanors. Craig said some police from the east side’s 9th Precinct were quarantined after a citizen who attended a community event later tested positive for coronavirus. Craig would not provide details, but the city issued a health alert to anyone who attended a Police and Pancakes event held March 6 because someone there later showed signs of the coronavirus. Craig said other officers were assigned to the 9th Precinct and that many of the police who were quarantined are due back on duty any day.
Some police have been concerned that staying home because of coronavirus fears would deplete their sick time. But Craig and Detroit police union officials decided that anyone ordered to stay home would not lose their sick time.
Detroit Police Officers Association President Craig Miller said the union and police brass have been working to make sure officers have enough personal protection equipment in scout cars and to ensure the cars and other police facilities are sanitized.
“We’re out here to help everybody,” Miller said. “Just everybody be safe.”
Craig said that if the coronavirus crisis were to sideline a large number of police officers, he could draw police from some specialized units. And while police may lighten up on some minor offenses, the chief added: “What’s non-negotiable is misdemeanor arrests for domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree and certainly felonies.”
“Any inference that we are turning a blind eye to crime is totally inaccurate. Crime will not go up because we’re taking a different posture on low-level misdemeanor crimes. It just will not.”
Craig said the department is advising all of its officers to sanitize their cars every two hours and to practice social distancing when possible. He acknowledged that officers will still have to handcuff people and get “up-close and personal” in some situations.
Despite Mayor Mike Duggan’s assurance last week that the city had plenty of material to keep city facilities clean, Craig said police ran out of sanitizer and were looking for a new supply when the Griffin Claw brewery and distillery of Birmingham agreed to provide sanitizer it created.
“I was told there was no sanitizer anywhere,” Craig said as Kyle VanDeventer stood by with a fresh box of sanitizer bottles. VanDeventer, who said he has a first responder in his family, is providing the sanitizer free to police and other emergency workers. Griffin Claw is not selling any to the public. In fact, VanDeventer said it’s virtually impossible to get small bottles now, so Griffin Claw is making it available to first responders in bulk quantities.
Other measures Craig is taking to slow the spread of coronavirus is ending face-to-face meetings with police executives. He said his last large meeting was Friday, March 13. He said one person at the meeting was later diagnosed with COVID-19. The chief did not name her but said no one else appears to be infected.
Craig said he’ll continue making contingency plans.
“We talk about the what-ifs all the time,” the chief said. “We have a number of officers that are quarantined. How much? How many more? And what impact will that have on a shift?”
Without answering, he later added:
“We are in a big fight right now,” he said. “Together we’ll get through this.”
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