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Eight Baltimore Police officers who previously tested positive for the coronavirus return to work

Eight Baltimore Police officers who previously tested positive for the coronavirus have recovered and returned to work at the agency that has largely been unscathed by the pandemic.

“Right now, we aren’t seeing any staffing shortages. The members are coming to work,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at a news conference outside City Hall Wednesday. "More people are back to work, and fewer people are quarantined.”

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Some agencies, including New York City, have seen large numbers of officers call out of work due to infection or potential exposure.

Harrison said the department continues to finalize its contingency plan should a large number of officers become ill or exposed.

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Previously, the department was forced to close its Southwestern District after an officer tested positive. Other officers at the district were screened or tested before returning to work, and the building reopened after cleaning.

The pandemic has also forced changes throughout the department. All current recruit classes are now being taught online instead of at the agency’s new police academy building at the University of Baltimore campus downtown.

Weekly ComStat meetings where commanders discuss crime trends have been postponed, but commanders continue to hold daily conference calls, which include COVID-19 concerns, a police spokeswoman said. The department has planned to hold ComStat virtually.

A total of 20 police officers and four civilian employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic, and 27 members remain quarantined, the police department said in a statement Wednesday.

Additionally, 332 employees have been quarantined for potential exposure, including travel from high-risk areas or because they showed possible symptoms of COVID-19, which includes fever and difficulty breathing. Of those who were quarantined, 305 have been cleared to return to work, police said.

The pandemic has also changed how officers respond to calls, including requiring officers to use their judgement for low-level offenses to reduce potential exposure of the disease.

Violence, however, has not slowed as 81 people have been killed so far this year, up from 78 at the same time last year. Another 156 people have been injured in shootings, down from 179 last year.

In addition to the decline in non-fatal shootings, Harrison said the department has an improved homicide clearance rate of 55% for the first four months of the year. He attributed both to improvements to enforcement and training, despite having to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

“It shows and demonstrates we can change because this crisis has caused us to change very rapidly. We’ve done it, and out members have done a very good job of adapting to it," he said.

But the department could face another challenge from potential pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs as City Hall braces for a $103 million revenue shortfall next year.

Harrison said he understands the “unprecedented times” but has advocated that police positions and salaries remain untouched, that there is “no negative impact to policing operations, our employment and, or the pay,” he said.

The department is short 300 officers, according to a staffing plan released last year.

The agency continues to hire for new officers, including hosting a recent “virtual job fair” at Morgan State University. “The Baltimore Police Department is hiring during COVID-19. Are you currently seeking a career that offers stability and much more?” one tweet from the department’s recruitment unit reads.

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