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Baltimore Police finalizing ‘contingency’ staffing plan as 19 employees test positive for coronavirus

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the department is prepared to handle potential officer shortages even as 19 employees, including 16 officers, tested positive for the new coronavirus, and 63 others remain quarantined due to possible exposure.

Baltimore Police are in the process of finalizing a “contingency plan” for how it will operate if the coronaviruscauses severe staffing shortages, Harrison said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

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The department has about 2,500 sworn officers, well below its optimum levels, Harrison has said.

“We are prepared to reallocate human resources and move officers around to make sure the entire city is covered,” he said. “Right now, we’re not experiencing a significant shortage. All the platoons are covered on every shift, every day.”

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Harrison said that if more than 15% of the force is out sick or quarantined, “we can start moving people around and pulling people out of specialized units and reallocating resources.”

A total of 315 employees have been quarantined due to potential exposure to the virus since the beginning of the outbreak last month. The department said in a statement Thursday that 252 of them have been cleared to return to work.

Baltimore Police, like agencies around the country, have instituted new protocols to reduce officers’ exposure and potentially avoid depleting its ranks.

Patrol officers now start their shifts at roll calls outside the district station building. They are required to “complete daily health checks and remain alert for any respiratory symptoms" police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said. “This includes checking their temperature twice a day.”

Many of the department’s facilities, including the district station houses, are closed to the public. At shooting scenes, officers can be seen wearing face masks.

As it did before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baltimore Police department partners with other local and state law enforcement agencies, Eldridge said

“The department continues to leverage and reassign different units within the department to ensure no disruption in public safety services throughout the city,” she said.

Eldridge declined to provide additional details about the department’s contingency plan, including providing an estimate of how many officers it would be able to lose and still provide expected service.

On Saturday, the department briefly closed the entire Southwest District station house after an officer tested positive for the COVID-19 illness.

Initially, department officials said all personnel assigned to the district would be tested, but later said only some officers would be tested. Officers who didn’t show symptoms, or who didn’t come into the building, were evaluated by health partners, and might not have required a test, Eldridge said previously.

On Wednesday, the department confirmed that a detective assigned to the Northeastern District tested positive for the coronavirus, but did not announce that the facility would be shuttered. Eldridge said the detective already had been off duty for a week while awaiting the test results and that the department was following the recommendations of health officials.

In New York City, the center of the pandemic in the U.S., one out of six officers is calling out of work for either a confirmed case or potential exposure. In Detroit, another city hit hard by the spreading illness, 14% of the force’s 2,500 officers are quarantined. The police chief there moved 80 officers from special units to patrol work, according to a report by The Detroit News.

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In Washington, D.C., where 36 officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and hundreds have called out of work, officials say the department is prepared to lose many more members before hitting a “diminishment of service,” according to a recent Washington Post article.

At a news conference Tuesday discussing a shooting by three police officers of an armed man in East Baltimore, Harrison noted that the city continues to be pummeled by violence despite the statewide stay-at-home orders, though other crimes and calls for service have seen declines in the city.

“Even amidst a pandemic, the culture of violence is still very pervasive, and people are still trying to solve their conflicts with gun violence," Harrison said.

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