Hundreds of Detroit cops back from COVID-19 quarantine

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit's police chief says he and his department appear to be on the mend.

More than 600 Detroit police employees — 109 civilians and 502 sworn officers — have returned from quarantine, while investigative units that saw members redeployed during the coronavirus outbreak have been restored to full strength, chief James Craig said Tuesday.

From left, Detroit police Sgt. Manny Gutierrez takes the temperature of officer J. Gorgon at the end of Gorgon's shift at the Detroit police department 4th Precinct in Detroit on April 14, 2020.  The police department has implemented various safety measures due to the coronavirus, such as taking the temperatures of officers arriving for duty and also at the end of their shift.

There are 345 DPD employees quarantined, 258 of them sworn officers. While that's still a significant chunk of the 2,500-member police force, it's down from about 500 employees quarantined on March 27, when Craig tested positive for the virus after feeling "feverish."

Craig said that's an indication things are headed in the right direction.

"We're not out of the woods yet, but it's very encouraging," he said. "We just have to stay diligent like we have been, and we hope this won't be anywhere near as bad as it could have been.

"Early on, we made projections based on worst-case scenarios, but we never got there," Craig said. "It was a lot of 'what ifs.' But we never had to close any precincts, and our service was never interrupted."

Assistant chief James White said the number of officers added to quarantine each day has plummeted. During the department's worst week of the outbreak, March 20-26, 115 officers were put in quarantine. From April 7-14, 31 officers were placed in quarantine.

"The peak was on March 26, when there were 37 officers (newly) quarantined," White said. "Since then, it's been a decline. (Tuesday) we had three; the day before that, it was five. So we're definitely seeing a huge improvement."

Among other recent developments:

  • Some members of investigative units like auto theft had been redeployed to help replace quarantined officers, but with more cops returned to duty, the units have been restored to full strength this week, Craig said.
  • Following the March 23 coronavirus-related death of a civilian 911 operator, police officials evacuated the 4th floor at Public Safety Headquarters, and moved the Communications Section and Real Time Crime Center to a temporary facility. The 4th floor has been disinfected, and both units are back at headquarters.
  • Craig said there has been a dramatic drop in coronavirus cases in the 9th Precinct, site of the department's worst outbreak, although he said there have been spikes in Communications, the Downtown Services Section and the 6th Precinct.

Craig and White credited the improvements to safety practices, such as disinfecting equipment and taking the temperatures of officers as they start and end their shifts, along with what Craig called "an aggressive quarantine posture."

"We quarantined a lot of officers, but we were being extra careful," he said. "Anyone who was exposed was quarantined to protect the other employees, so initially our quarantine numbers were high, but we're reaping the benefits of that now. If we hadn't been so aggressive about quarantining officers, this would've been a lot worse."

Another major factor, White said, was getting rapid testing for the virus. "That's been instrumental in allowing us to get our officers back to duty quicker and safer," he said.

Sgt. Delvecchio Thompson of the 4th Precinct said officers are getting used to the safety protocols that include the suspension of roll calls, which have been replaced by written updates that give officers information they need before starting their shifts.

"At first, it took some getting used to, but it's not too bad," he said. "Other than (the safety measures), things are pretty much normal."

Still, Thompson said it's daunting being a police officer during a pandemic. "With other stuff, you can see what you're fighting," he said. "This is a fight you can't see."

Craig said the virus "took a lot out of me" at first, but added he feels better and plans to officially return to work as early as Wednesday, if his scheduled coronavirus test is negative.

"I've been working for a while now," he said. "Even when I was at a low point, I was making decisions, although I wasn't as involved as I have been during this past week. I'm stronger, so other than not being in my office, I'm pretty much back to work now, although I need to take the test to make it official."

Detroit police officer A. Hernandez sprays down her vehicle with alcohol at the start of her shift at the Detroit police department 4th Precinct in Detroit on April 14, 2020.  The police department has implemented various safety measures due to the coronavirus crisis.

Craig said on Tuesday he spoke on the phone with two officers who are hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus.

"We just had three released, so there are nine left in the hospital," he said. "Two of them are in pretty bad shape, but we're seeing a lot of them recovering."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN