Among cities across the U.S., Detroit has experienced a very high number of cases of COVID-19, leaving the city’s once-thriving downtown quiet and nearly deserted, and hospitals overwhelmed with new patients. With a population of 670,000, many of the city’s low-income residents had been battling asthma and other chronic diseases before the coronavirus pandemic struck, so the virus has placed a heavy burden on the city.
Even more startling for many residents is just how rapidly — and devastatingly — the virus has struck the city’s police department, with even the police chief testing positive and more than 500 police officers ending up in quarantine.
Many are tracing the rapid spread of COVID-19 within the Detroit police department to a community event designed to focus on how to improve the community experience with the Detroit Police Department.
Why Did COVID-19 Hit the Detroit Police Department So Hard?
On March 6, 90 Detroit police officers attended a “Police and Pancakes” breakfast sponsored by the 9th Precinct on the east side of Detroit. Marlowe Stoudamire, a community activist and neighborhood organizer, spoke about creating a dialogue between the community and the police department, as attendees ate scrambled eggs and pancakes.
Within two weeks, Stoudamire had died from COVID-19 at the age of 43. Three police department employees who attended the breakfast also got sick.
Since then, the department has been one of the hardest-hit law enforcement agencies in the nation, and COVID-19 also infected Chief James Craig. Every precinct in the department has since been affected by the pandemic, although the 9th precinct was among those hardest hit, with 46 members quarantined. At least 39 officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and the virus has claimed the lives of two officers. That included homicide Capt. Jonathan Parnell and a 911 call taker who both worked in the headquarters building.
How Has the Detroit Police Department Responded to the Crisis?
The Detroit Health Department didn’t learn about the COVID-19 test results tied to the Police and Pancakes breakfast until March 17, and that’s when the health department recommended that any officer who attended the event should go into quarantine. The police department also responded by bulking up on masks, hand sanitizer and other protective items, and set up a command center to react to the outbreak.
Assistant Chief David LeValley, who gave a speech at the breakfast and was later among those quarantined, said his department has never faced a crisis like this one. He noted:
“We can train all day for certain kinds of threats out on the street that they can see. But when you’re dealing with something that you can’t see, it’s nerve-wracking. We’re not in a position to stay home and work from home, we just have to go out and face it head on. It definitely is making officers nervous.”
However, the police department also reports that crime is down in Detroit. With so many under the statewide Stay At Home order, the city is mostly quiet.
Is Michigan Still Under a Stay At Home Order?
Michigan remains under a Stay At Home order. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a two-week extension of the stay-home order, now through May 28. However, Whitmer and members of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council also released a “MI Safe Start Plan” for reopening the state, and the governor allowed the manufacturing industry, construction, real estate and numerous industries that primarily work outdoors to reopen with safety measures in place.
Construction and real-estate are resuming for a gradual ramp-up, with workers wearing face masks and practicing frequent hand-sanitizing and physical-distancing. New construction work is expected to quickly ramp up in downtown Detroit. The Home Builders Association of Michigan predicted demand would be strong for new residential construction. Bob Filka, CEO of the association, said in a statement:
“With residential construction permits up by 10% from last year, we know there is demand and a need for housing in our communities. We are proud of our members for working hard to adjust their work practices to meet new health safety guidelines.”
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