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Beck orders new virus protections for Chicago Police officers

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham calls it a start, but nowhere near enough.

Chicago Police Department Interim Supt. Charlie Beck.
Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck is changing roll call procedures and taking other action in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sun-Times file

Interim Chicago Police Superintendent Charlie Beck on Wednesday made a series of changes to prevent even more officers from contracting the coronavirus, but the steps he took were nowhere near enough to satisfy the police union.

From now on, roll calls will be held in groups of “below 10” and in “areas that create a great opportunity for social distancing,” instead of in cramped roll-call rooms at police stations, Beck said.

“With the mayor’s help, we’ve put up stanchions in our lobbies to keep the public six feet back to provide social distancing for both the protection of the public and protection of the officers working the desk,” Beck said.

“And we have put signage at the front door indicating that people with non-emergency situations will be best served by calling 311. … They can get the service that they need over the phone and not risk face-to-face contact. This is not just to protect police officers in the stations. It’s to protect the public. Any way that any of us can find to limit social contact is good at this point — the exact opposite of what we would normally talk about.”

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham called those measures a start, but said they still fall short of what’s needed to prevent the continued spread of the virus in a department where at least six officers have already tested positive.

“I actually asked that those roll calls not be held. ... Information can be disseminated through phones, through our email system. Many of the officers have department phones. We have [display terminals] in the cars. All vital information could be transmitted through them,” Graham told the Sun-Times.

“We want as few people in the station as possible and as few interactions as possible as well.”

In a letter to the superintendent dated Monday and posted on the union’s website, Graham reiterated the laundry list of demands he made two weeks ago — long before similar concerns were raised by his opponent in a run-off election for police union president.

They range from closing police stations to the public except during emergencies, shifting officers to eight-hour days and ordering station custodians instead of police recruits to clean vehicles to opening a coronavirus testing station at police headquarters and having medical professionals check officers’ temperature and symptoms as they leave or enter every CPD facility.

Noting that face shields distributed to officers are “known as spit guards,” the letter demanded more personal protective equipment for officers, including N-95 masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

And Graham urged the city not to cancel days off, as it did last weekend, or go to 12-hour shifts, arguing that, “If officers are tired and worn down, they will have a harder time fighting off the virus.”

The letter also talked about officers who have been exposed to the virus being pressured to stay on the job.

“If the doctor states that they should be isolated or quarantined, then they should be isolated or quarantined. A nurse at the medical station should not be trying to override a doctor’s order,” the letter states.

Graham also questioned the cleanliness of police stations. He noted the union distributed 100 gallons of hand sanitizer last week because the city hadn’t — until Wednesday, when the city matched that amount.

“I’ve got to worry about the men and women of the Chicago Police Department and my members. And if the city doesn’t have it and can’t do it, we’re going to step in and we will do it,” Graham said. “It’s not about finger-pointing. It’s about let’s get all on the same page and work together to provide the biggest protection for the men and women of the police department.”

Beck pushed back against the notion that Chicago police stations are dirty, exacerbating the risk to officers.

“I’ve visited many of the districts, if not most of them over the past week. They all look very clean to me. There may be instances where a thorough cleaning is needed. But to call our stations dirty is not accurate. I’ve been in many police stations across this nation. These are well-kept facilities. And we have increased the cleaning schedule to make sure they remain that way. And we’ve increased the cleaning schedule for our cars, which are truly the office of most police officers,” he said.

Beck was asked about officers who might be reluctant to disperse crowds.

“We have many options at our disposal — including P.A.’s in vehicles, including various warnings that can be done remotely. We’ll try to use those,” he said.

“Breaking up crowds physically has not been necessary in any of the other major cities that are dealing with this. I don’t think it will be necessary in Chicago.”