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Nearly three dozen police officers in RI under self-quarantine

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A Providence Police officer has tested positive for COVID-19, the Target 12 investigators have learned on Friday.

On Thursday, Sid Wordell, the executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, said 35 officers in the state are currently under self-quarantine.

He said many of those officers are on quarantine because of interactions they had outside the job, while about a third of the officers are quarantined because they came into contact with an infected person while on the job.

“We don’t know if an individual has the virus,” he said. “We’re relying on individuals to be truthful with us. We’re trying to have every officer go into a call thinking that individual could possibly be infected by the virus.”

Wordell said it isn’t reasonable to take every precaution on every call – meaning officers can’t be expected to wear personal protective equipment each time they respond to an incident. He said it all depends on the circumstances.

“Unfortunately, when people are cooped up and restricted, this is when things like domestic violence happen, in the home and people get aggravated with each other. Those are instances when law enforcement can’t stand outside and talk through an issue. They have to respond and do something,” Wordell said.

Wordell said the coronavirus outbreak has changed the way members of law enforcement react and respond to calls – forcing them to use even more discretion when handling each case.

He said there has been a lot of preparation over the years, but said, “it’s changed what we’re doing out on the streets right now.”

With the courts closed, except for emergencies, Wordell said police departments in the state have been forced to prioritize cases.

“There are instances where we still have to arrest individuals,” Wordell said. “A lot of those are domestic cases, or a violator, which by law we have to present them before a judge or a bail commissioner. So, those instances still have to happen.”

Wordell said for individuals who commit petty crimes, they are being given a summons to appear in court more than 60 days from now. He also said efforts are being made to process those individuals faster in order to minimize contact.

In terms of personal protective equipment for officers, Wordell said they have an abundance of gloves.

“PPE masks? No. We don’t have enough,” he said. “We’re working with EMA.”

Wordell said many agencies in the state are equipping cruisers with a safety bag that contains a mask. But, he said they don’t have enough masks for everyone. 

So, what happens if a police officer in Rhode Island were to contract COVID-19? 

“We have to deal with that the same way anyone in the public would deal with it. A complete quarantine on them,” Wordell said. “It has a huge impact.”

Wordell said he hopes every police department in Rhode Island currently has policies in place to disinfect cruisers, have officers wash their hands, and maintain social distancing. 

But if a department were to be short-staffed because of an infection, Wordell said, “we have agreements with other agencies that allow an officer to be called in for an agency that’s in distress to be able to assist.”

A bit of positive news? Wordell said reports of crime are “relatively less” than they were a few weeks ago.

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