Baltimore Police Department’s Southwest District station reopened Monday after all employees were ordered to self-quarantine this past weekend when an officer tested positive for the coronavirus, one of eight police employees who’ve contracted the disease.
Department spokeswoman Chakia Fennoy wrote in an email Monday that the building at 424 Font Hill Ave. has reopened “after the building and all cars associated with the district were sanitized over the weekend.”
The department said 94 officers have been cleared to return to work while 40 Southwest District officers continue to self-quarantine. There are 120 officers throughout the department who are self-quarantined.
Mike Ricci, spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, wrote on Twitter on Monday that Maryland State Police Col. Woodrow Jones III “has offered more resources to Commissioner Harrison” and the department “in response to the issues in the Southwest District.”
“Our troopers and MD Transportation Authority Police officers are continuing their regular patrol assignments in Baltimore City,” Ricci wrote. “Troopers work patrol in areas of need as directed by BPD command staff.”
Police announced late Saturday that the district had been closed after an officer assigned to the district tested positive for COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus.
In a news release Sunday, the department said that the officer was one of eight police employees — six officers and two civilian employees — who have tested positive for the coronavirus. In addition, 219 employees are out while they self-quarantine, the department said.
“The department continues to adjust and modify the delivery of police services to meet the evolving demands [of] the COVID-19 response,” the department wrote. “The safety of our members and citizens continues to be our top priority during this critical time, and we continue to take the necessary steps to protect our members and the community.”
As of Sunday, 305 officers and employees have been quarantined for some time, including 133 officers at the Southwest District. Eighty-two officers and four civilian employees have since returned to work, the department wrote.
The release came after the department announced late Saturday that the district building would be temporarily closed after at least one officer tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Southwest District building and all vehicles assigned to the district are being sanitized, the department said Saturday. Officers from other districts will backfill coverage in the district.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the department is temporarily adjusting operations as a precautionary measure for the agency,” Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a statement.
Officials said the department is expediting testing for all employees assigned to the Southwest District station.
Harrison said in a statement that all of the officers that tested positive for COVID-19 "are all recovering and are in good spirits.”
Harold Diggs, president of the Southwest Neighborhood Community Development Corp., said he’s anxious about having officers policing an area they’re unfamiliar with.
“It’s very concerning,” Diggs said. “We have never had officers coming in the area that we would have to build a temporary relationship with."
Diggs, who is from the Edgewood neighborhood, said he’s also worried less-experienced officers will be plugged in to fill gaps left by the other officers’ absence.
Anita Cathcart, president of the Allendale Community Association, was one of a handful of community leaders on a 4 p.m. call Sunday with Harrison.
She said the commissioner told the group that the department is in the process of cleaning the building so officers can return. He told them he’s waiting for the test results of other officers before coming up with a long-term plan.
“They’re moving the chess pieces around and they’re seeing what fits and what doesn’t,” she said.
Cathcart said that though there are concerns about whether the department will respond more slowly to lesser crimes, she had not seen any indication of that. She said officers responding to an alleged robbery at a nearby construction site after the station closed did so in a similar fashion and time as before the closure.
“It was responded to immediately. There was no lagging in time,” Cathcart said.
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Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement that the closure and self-quarantining will protect the health of officers, and that steps were immediately taken once the department was made aware of the potential exposure.
“I am confident that Commissioner Harrison and his team are taking every precaution to avoid the possible spread of this virus,” Young said. “All of our residents need to remain vigilant, and continue to comply with the governor’s stay-at-home order to limit the risks of exposure to this dangerous and deadly disease."
Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott called for Young’s administration to “institute a practice of pre-work-shift temperature testing for all our frontline employees in city government.”
In recent weeks, the police and fire departments have been creating policies to enforce social distancing statewide mandates, as well as reduce officer exposure, including closing police buildings to the public.
Other agencies across the country are also grappling with staffing shortages as officers become ill or are forced to self-quarantine to slow the disease’s spread. In New York City, which has been the hardest-hit region, media reports say about one out of every six officers is out sick or in quarantine.