As they work to help others in North Texas, some police officers are short on masks and other protective gear for themselves. Cops in Arlington are just now getting the gear they need without borrowing from the fire department, and more than two dozen Dallas officers are in quarantine, NBC 5 Investigates has learned.
Officers in isolation means fewer cops on the streets, as the coronavirus wreaks havoc.
NBC 5 Investigates has found that some police departments readily make available the type of gear that is most likely to turn away the fast-spreading germ – masks known as N95 respirators, kits labeled “personal protective equipment,” or PPE, gloves, and disinfectants, to name a few.
But patrol officers with other departments don’t always have the protective gear readily available each time they roll up to a scene – a scene that, at times, can mean an up-close encounter with someone sick, injured or combative.
NBC 5 Investigates, in surveying police departments throughout North Texas, found:
- As of Friday, 27 Dallas police officers are in quarantine – including two who came into contact with an officer who tested positive for the virus and is also isolated. Others are in isolation for reasons such as recent travels, including on a cruise trip.
- Only Friday Arlington police were receiving all of the protective gear they needed in hopes of not getting sick on the job.
- And Dallas police said on Friday they were still waiting on a shipment of masks, even as one of their own tested positive for COVID-19.
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“Yeah, maybe in a perfect world. But we don’t work in a perfect world,” Dallas Police Association president Mike Mata said.
He told NBC 5 Investigates other first responders, mainly the doctors and nurses, need the masks more than the police.
“If we gave 3,000 out to police officers, that’s 3,000 doctors and nurses that may not have any availability to that. And those are the ones who are really risking their lives more than we are,” Mata said.
The Dallas Police Department says it has put more gloves and sanitizers in patrol cars and has ordered “some” masks, which have yet to arrive.
“All possible measures are being taken to protect the officers and mitigate the spread of the virus…,” the DPD said in a statement.
At the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department, patrol deputies are fully equipped.
“They have full universal precaution …they can gown up, mask up. They can do anything that they need to do,” Sheriff Bill Waybourn said.
But some fear as more officers contract the virus, like the one officer in Dallas, and one in Plano, others who had contact with them will be quarantined, cutting the number of cops on the street.
Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said four or five officers are currently at home in isolation.
“Our officers are scared, just as any other citizen is scared because it’s unknown,” Ramirez said.
“But at the end of the day, the definition of courage is being scared and doing it anyway,” he said.
In a statement, Fort Worth police told NBC 5 Investigates:
Arlington police commanders say officers will get their own protective gear, allowing them to suit up without having to call the fire department for help.
However, in some circumstances police said officers would still call the fire department for additional equipment and guidance.
Police in protective suits may soon also hit the streets, they said.
“We do not want to be alarmist, but unfortunately, in today's environment, I don't think anybody's gonna be too terribly alarmed to see somebody in a mask anymore,” said Waybourn, the Tarrant County sheriff.
“So if the officer feels like he needed to do it, then he needs to do it,” he said.
Other measures taken by area police departments include telling officers to go directly to their patrol cars rather than reporting for roll call.
And, in Dallas, police are even looking at relocating some officers to more remote buildings to separate them.