Detroit police civilian dispatcher, captain die of COVID-19

Detroit — A Detroit police civilian dispatcher and a captain have died after contracting the COVID-19 virus, police said Tuesday.

The captain was in his 50s and had no known health problems that could have contributed to his death.

A 38-year-old civilian employee died Monday after suffering bronchitis-like symptoms, said police Chief James Craig.

As of late last week, six Detroit police staffers or contractors had the virus, while more than 200 were being self-quarantined after possible exposure.

"I don't want to release the name out of respect to the family," Craig said late Tuesday about the police captain. "He was a well respected commanding officer in the Police Department. Many revered him as an iconic figure, loved by many, but followed by more."

Earlier Tuesday, Craig was joined by Mayor Mike Duggan and the city's medical adviser Dr. Robert Dunne at a press conference in Public Safety Headquarters to announce the death of the dispatcher.

"On Monday (March 16), he wasn't feeling well," Duggan said. "He came back to work Wednesday; Thursday he was off sick; by Saturday, his mom called and said he was in ICU in a suburban hospital with what was thought to be bronchitis."

Detroit Police Chief James Craig addressees the media about the death of a 38-year old Detroit police dispatcher from COVID-19 as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, left, and Dr. Robert Dunne spoke about the incident on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

A COVID-19 test was done, although the man died before the results came back positive Monday morning, Duggan said.

Because the test was administered in a suburban hospital, Duggan said, "the Detroit Health Department didn't get a notification. That's something we'll have to clean up."

Dunne said the man had "no significant underlying medical issues that we're aware of, but this and other viruses often have devastating  effects on younger people ... it can literally happen to anyone."

The death of the dispatcher prompted police officials to redeploy everyone working on the fourth floor at Public Safety Headquarters, including the communications operations and Real Time Crime Center, until the area can be cleaned. Crews from the affected units are expected to move back into their usual quarters after a few days of deep cleaning, Craig said.

After the dispatcher was confirmed to have contracted the virus, Craig said he ordered employees in the department's communications operations to temporarily set up shop in a back-up dispatch center on Lyndon Street on Detroit's west side.

Craig said he and Assistant Chief James White were able to coordinate the move “in 3, three-and-a-half hours.”

The dispatcher was an 11-year city employee who worked for Detroit police for eight years, the chief said. “For three years before that, he worked for (the Detroit Department of Transportation),” Craig said. “He was beloved and respected by his co-workers. He will be missed.”

Craig said he promoted the captain twice, from sergeant to lieutenant, and then to captain.

"His upgrades during my tenure were not by accident; he had an impact on addressing crime in my time here, so that promoting him was natural," Craig said. "He epitomizes what leadership is all about. The entire department is grieving."

Duggan said Craig approached him two years ago about the importance of having a backup communications hub.

"In May 2018, we built an $8 million communications center, but the chief said, 'we need a backup communications center in case of a terrorist attack or other emergency,' so we spent the money," Duggan said. "As soon as we learned of our employee being positive (for the COVID-19 virus), the department literally packed up and moved to the other center."

Members of the Real Time Crime Center, where officers and civilians watch dozens of video feeds from Project Green Light locations throughout the city, will work in other areas. They're able to monitor the videos from remote computers as long as they have the proper software, police officials said.

Michigan health officials said confirmed cumulative cases statewide reached almost on 1,800 on Tuesday with 24 deaths. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a "stay at home" order Monday that took effect at midnight and will last through mid-April, in the hopes of slowing the spread of the virus that has killed more than 15,000 people globally and 500 in the United States. 

Detroit Police Chief James Craig

Law enforcement is thought to be particularly exposed to the virus due to a high level of contact with the public. 

As of late last week, six Detroit police staffers or contractors had the virus, while more than 200 were being self-quarantined after possible exposure. The staffing situation became so dire that Michigan State Police offered to help the department fill the gaps left by quarantined officers.

More:5 Detroit cops diagnosed with COVID-19, 152 quarantined

On Sunday, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office said in a memo that four officers and two nurses had contracted the virus.

More:6 Wayne County sheriff's staff test positive for COVID-19

Fears over its spread at the Wayne County Jail have led to a "ramped up" number of inmates being released on tether monitoring. Those tether releases are part of the reason the jail's population has fallen, from about 1,380 on March 10, to 1,150 this week.

On Monday, a Michigan Department of Corrections inmate in the Upper Peninsula tested positive for the coronavirus.