After a San Jose, Ca., reserve police officer tested positive for coronavirus, 20 of his colleagues were quarantined. Another 10 full-time employees from the police department’s family violence unit were asked to stay home. “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, reports USA Today. The worst-case scenario is that the pandemic depletes the police force of one of the largest cities in California. Police officials 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.
The 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 work. Worried that officers will fall sick, departments are urging officers to limit their interactions with the public, a fundamental change in policing. “The next two to four weeks is critical,” said Chief Robert Bongiorno of Bedford, Ma., a town of 14,000. Bongiorno is preparing to lose nearly half of his small force of 41 to quarantines and actual sickness. “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 of the Police Executive Research Forum. “Having someone sit at home for 14 days, two weeks, is a huge loss for a department.” In some places, like San Jose, officials have approved priority testing for officers and other first responders who show symptoms of coronavirus. “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.”