As COVID-19 spreads, CPD officers on desk duty call in sick most

Data obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show officers assigned to a unit that has little to no face-to-face interaction with the public called off work more than any other group of officers between March 16 and March 25.

SHARE As COVID-19 spreads, CPD officers on desk duty call in sick most
The Chicago Police Department’s Alternate Response Section at 2111 W. Lexington St. Getting through to file a police report on her stolen SUV proved to be a nightmare for Kiama Doyle. Even the 911 operator who tried to help her get through got hung up on — four times.

The CPD’s Alternate Response Section typically works out of 2111 W. Lexington, though the section has since been moved due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Sun-Times file

Over a 10-day period late last month, as the COVID-19 outbreak was taking hold, Chicago Police officers called in sick more than 5,300 times.

Data obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times through a Freedom of Information Act request shows officers assigned to a unit that has little to no face-to-face interaction with the public called off work more than any other group of officers between March 16 and March 25.

Those officers are assigned to the CPD’s Alternate Response Section, which typically works out of a city-owned facility at 2111 W. Lexington St. — sharing a building with the city’s Department of Public Health. Officers assigned to ARS answer phone calls from members of the public who want to report a non-emergency criminal act, such as a vehicle break-in.

The section is staffed by officers “on permanent light-duty awaiting reassignment as well as those officers who have been stripped of their police powers,” said Luis Agostini, a CPD spokesman.

“The health, safety and welfare of our workforce is vitally important to us.To implement proper infection control practices at all police facilities, we have: Established social distance protocols in all facilities, created a daily digital communication to educate our workforce on the latest information pertaining to COVID-19 and how to keep them safe [and] increased frequency of cleaning crews and supplied hand sanitizing stations at entry points,” Agostini said in an emailed statement.

It’s unclear how many officers are assigned to the section, though records show that, between March 16 and March 25, at least 30 officers assigned to ARS called in sick every day.

According to Agostini, “less than a handful” of officers assigned to ARS had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon. All told, 237 CPD employees had reported testing positive for the virus. Friday evening, the department said a second officer — a sergeant in the Area Central Detectives Division —had died of the virus.

Since the outbreak, much of the CPD’s day-to-day operations have been altered. Promotions have been put on hold. Reported crimes and arrest totals have both plummeted. Classes at police academy have been dispatched to the department’s 22 districts.

With the CPD’s police academy facility in the West Loop not being used to train future officers for the time being, the department has opted to move ARS from West Lexington Street to the academy.

Though the building on Lexington has been disinfected, it is still home to some police operations. The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications has moved about 10 employees who answer 911 calls to the Lexington facility, according to a source familiar with the decision. The move was made in an effort to create more physical space between 911 call-takers, who typically work out of OEMC’s main office at 1411 W. Madison St.

After ARS, the CPD units and assignments with the most sick officers during that timeframe were the department’s Near North, Englewood, Calumet, Gresham and Town Hall districts.

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