As strange as this may sound, I currently feel extremely fortunate that for the past twelve days the attorneys and support personnel within our firm have had the ability to “quarantine” ourselves from the nuclear work space by separating from one another and working from individualized “remote” locations. We took these steps before we were ordered by the government to do so because the tools of our trade are all located within a cloud based remote storage site accessible from any modern computer or internet based mobile system. Thus, when the COVID-19 virus began to spread it simply made sense and was easy to go remote. However this has not been the case for our State’s First Responders who are clearly “Essential Personnel” thus requiring them to report to work and make efforts to re-arrange their lives, attempt to get child care issues into line, and manage the nuances and idiosyncrasies of home life now that school is being taught from a remote location. And just think, all of this had to take place and is still taking place while each and every one of them reports to workplaces that the rest of society has been banned or discouraged from entering.
In reviewing the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for practicing proper social distancing the American public is told to remain six feet apart from one another at all times and to wash our hands with soap and water as frequently as possible for a minimum time period of twenty seconds per wash. However the National guidelines for practicing social distancing are not the same guidelines that apply to our law enforcement officers while they are on the job. The guidance that the CDC provides to Law Enforcement Officers recognizes the difficulties associated with their employment when it comes to Social Distancing by stating:
- If possible, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet.
- Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available and illicit drugs are NOT suspected to be present, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
I bring this to everyone’s attention to demonstrate the practical realities that First Responders face on a daily basis during this national crisis. However, different Law Enforcement jobs bring unique issues and problems. Police Officers patrolling our streets have to respond to calls for service that demand that they enter houses and buildings that may be severely infected with the COVID-19 virus. Each call for service presents this “unknown”. On the other hand, Correctional Police Officers have their own concerns. A prison or jail ushers in hundreds of people a day from the “outside” into a closed circulated environment. This includes everyone from civilian and law enforcement personnel to newly booked and incarcerated prisoners. Despite the very thorough screening processes that have been put in place, we all currently know that a person can be asymptomatic for weeks while still carrying the COVID-19 Virus. In addition, in plain and simple terms, inmates and detainees can not be routinely managed safely from a distance of six feet. Thus close contact is an inevitable consequence of the profession, and perfect social distancing is an impossibility.
All of this brings me to my point. In speaking to many law enforcement officers this week, both Patrol Officers and Correctional Police Officers, it seems that some Administrations have taken the position of “rationing” Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Not so much with the use of latex gloves as these items were being used by law enforcement officers long before the outbreak, but with the much needed disposable N95 Respirator Masks. Many officers have informed me that they have not been issued masks by their respective correctional facility despite the fact that there are masks within the Department’s internal supply chain. Instead, the masks are being withheld “until” there is a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 within the institution. Recognizing that there is a shortage of NIOSH approved N95 Respirator Masks, common sense tells us that it is counter intuitive to “wait” until the virus is confirmed to be within the prison walls before we take measures to protect our officers. Such a policy is reacting to the spread of the disease rather than proactively trying to prevent the spread of the disease.
Every officer that is reading this article most likely has a health and safety article or clause in their collective negotiations agreement that mandates that the administration meet and confer with your Local to discuss health and safety issues on a periodic basis. Whether such an article or clause is present in the agreement or not, I urge all of our Union Leaders to call for these meetings, review the safety standards that have been put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, review what PPE is in the current supply coffers; and consider making demands that officers be permitted to use the same PRIOR to an outbreak occurring. If the supply of PPE is inadequate, demand to know the resupply efforts being taken by the Administration and the Department. These are your rights under the contract that you negotiated. Exercise these rights and protect yourselves and your families.