New York City cops still doing the job amid coronavirus, but fear of illness spreads through department

Officers at a stabbing on Ocean Parkway wear masks when dealing with the crime scene. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

No NYPD officer is immune from the coronavirus, and they, too, have been told to practice social distancing and take other measures to protect themselves while continuing to enforce the law amid the outbreak.

On Monday, March 23, 2,407 NYPD employees were on sick report, which accounts for 6.6% of the Department uniformed workforce. This is more than double the typical daily average. As of March 23, 2020, 100 uniformed members and 29 civilians tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, March 24, 2020, 2,774 NYPD employees were on sick report which accounts for 7.6% of the Department’s uniformed workforce.  Currently, 177 uniformed members and 34 civilian members tested positive for the coronavirus.  

The NYPD, however, has been hard-pressed to change old habits that include close relations under community policing. Officers could be seen over the last weekend standing close together, sharing information with each other in crime incidents and standing close to civilians while trying to do their jobs.

Precinct commanders are now advising officers to keep to “social distancing,” though that is difficult when two officers are riding in the front seats of a police vehicle.

Commanders are even holding roll calls differently in precincts, staggering some roll calls to address fewer officers at a time and keeping men and women to the six-foot rule.

Some officers and ranking NYPD members, who spoke to amNewYork Metro on the condition of anonymity, said they are afraid that they have already contracted the disease. Others were fearful that they may be vulnerable because they may have had exposure at the World Trade Center site following the 9/11 terrorist attacks that have left them with respiratory issues.

Cops in a patrol car wear masks. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

During the past week, Brooklyn cops accompanied by local volunteer patrols in Borough Park, Crown Heights and Williamsburg, have been forced to close down synagogues and churches who fail to adhere to the 50 person rule.

In one case, officers were forced to close down a wedding where celebrants were dancing with surgical masks. Volunteer patrols such as Shmira have had to intercede as some synagogue parishioners have resisted calls to leave the building.

One commander said he has been advising people to break up large gatherings, but he’s decided to stay in his vehicle and work the phones when possible.

Another commander added most people have been understanding and when large gatherings are found, they mostly break up.

“The problem is we are around people all the time and in this business, you gotta be in the crowd but we have to use common sense,” one official said. “We try to distance ourselves if we can, but a cop’s gotta do what a cop’s gotta do.”

Officers say they have been trying to keep their distance from people in the field, but then a lot of cops are reporting out sick.

“If we don’t have to go near people, we don’t, but many of us are so used to shaking hands, kissing babies – those days will be over for a while,” said one ranking official, who noted that they had to intervene at synagogues in Borough Park and mosques in Kensington to urge people to leave if there are more than 50 people congregating.

Cops say they are being properly equipped with masks, gloves, sanitizers, and wipes. At a call Tuesday where a man was stabbed, cops were wearing masks, some N95 and others using surgical masks. Cops were also keeping safe distances from complainants and witnesses, though not always.

Cops from the 73rd Precinct gather around two suspects after an arrest, sometimes unavoidable. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

In a statement, the NYPD said:

“The NYPD is extremely concerned for the well-being of officers as they continue to be on the front lines of the City’s coronavirus response. Since the outbreak began, the NYPD has distributed over 204,000 pairs of gloves, 75,000 N95 masks, 340,000 surgical masks and distributed 125,000 alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer to employees. The NYPD has a significant amount of these products on reserve and received an additional shipment over the weekend. The NYPD will continue to monitor inventory to ensure officers have the necessary equipment to perform their duties safely.”

One officer is sitting out a fever, wondering if he has caught the coronavirus. His wife is a medical professional and only recently was he reporting fever and a cough. He awaits his test result as he worries his past exposure to carcinogens at the World Trade Center will impact him if he has the contagion.

“We had a synagogue on 16th Avenue that had to be shut synagogue, they were going right in, Shmira was trying to get them out – they won’t listen to us,” he said. “The mayor says the NYPD has to enforce this and they want us to go in. But the DA’s are not prosecuting low-level offenses. If there is a wedding who will break it up – they won’t listen to you.”

Other commanders say people are complying and keeping out of large gatherings as their neighbors are getting the virus and people are “realizing that they too can get sick.”

“It’s just not easy to be out here because you still have to deal with the public, but most of us are making sure to keep to social distancing – we simply don’t want to bring it home to our families,” one officer said.

Assisting the NYPD is the Sheriff’s office, who have been going to gatherings and asking people to break up. The sheriffs’ deputies have been mostly looking for illegal social clubs and one Saturday, officers shut down an illegal gambling hall and issued summonses to some of the occupants and owner of the property and seized gambling equipment.

However, officials say only the most “egregious” gatherings are actually subject to prosecution or penalties.

One official said, “We do what the governor and mayor declare – so we focus on restaurants and malls, but our main focus is illegal gatherings including social clubs – we just want to get people to comply and after explaining most people go without resistance.”

Chief of the Sheriff’s office Joseph Fucito said his officers are playing their part in the crisis.

“The DOF Sheriff’s Office acting pursuant to the Mayor’s Emergency Executive Order 102 has been enforcing occupancy bans and social distancing edicts,” Fucito said. “Deputy Sheriffs have conducted thousands of inspections this past week with very few violations. In addition those who were issued appearance tickets were often committing seperate and distinct criminal acts in conjunction with violating Order 102.”

NYPD officials reported on Sunday a number of enforcement actions including visiting 1,275 Supermarkets/Pharmacies and where they issued three (3) verbal warnings for crowd conditions in Patrol Borough Queens North; NYPD officers visited 5,143 bars and restaurants of which 3,817 were closed. Three (3) warnings in Patrol Borough Brooklyn North; NYPD officers visited 573 Public Places of which 217 were closed and four verbal warnings were issued in Patrol Borough Queens North (3) and Patrol Borough Brooklyn North (1). NYPD Officers also visited 1,236 personal care facilities of which 1,177 closed. Fifty-nine (59) warnings were issued citywide.

A police officer wears her mask as a precaution at a crime scene. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)