PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland patrol officers can check out 2-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer at the start of their shifts, as well as four sanitary wipes to clean off their car’s steering wheel, door handles and radio to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The bureau has distributed new canisters for officers’ gas masks.
Police Chief Jami Resch this week suspended roll call meetings and halted police classroom training. She also stopped officers from using the bureau’s shooting ranges to maintain their firearms qualifications.
And the city’s Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund drafted new rules for COVID-19 medical claims.
But the one thing officers need most of all isn’t happening, said Daryl Turner, head of the rank-and-file police union.
“We need to be tested,” Turner said.
“We’re out there in the front lines, dealing with people who are vulnerable,’’ he said. “We’re at risk of becoming infected also and carrying it back to our co-workers and families. I think we’re behind the 8-ball in this state, compared to other states in terms of testing. Can you imagine if we lost 20 percent of the police force?’’
Police in Portland and nationwide are changing the way they respond to calls to try to reduce their own and the public’s exposure to the new coronavirus.
Earlier this week, for example, the Seattle police chief sent an email to the department, confirming an officer’s positive test and sharing an action plan to decontaminate any police buildings, equipment or cars that an employee or community member who tested positive for the virus had contact with. The department also is producing a daily updated list of employees in quarantine or isolation.
In Portland, Resch said Friday that she’s unaware of anyone from the bureau who has tested positive or has been tested for COVID-19 as no widespread testing has been available. If a bureau member does test positive, she expects the officer or civilian employee to report it to the bureau.
In the past two days, about 2.5% to 3% of the bureau’s force - about 30 to 40 members of the more than 1,200-member bureau - has been out sick, which is consistent with this time of year, she said.
Resch said she has encouraged all employees to stay home if they don’t feel well.
The bureau on Monday activated a coronavirus incident management team led by a commander that is making plans to handle the expected eventuality that officers will be out of work because coronavirus symptoms.
“This is a very real possibility, and we are planning for that,” Resch said.
The team is working closely with Multnomah County’s mental health department, the county’s emergency operations center, 911 dispatchers and Portland Fire & Rescue Bureau, but is currently in a support role, she said.
Officers from the Detective Division, Gun Violence Task Force, Operations Support Services or other units may be asked to fill patrol shifts if officers get sick and are out of work.
The chief said the bureau is still having officers respond to all calls for service, but they have been told to avoid as much face-to-face contact as possible and to ask residents to come outside to speak with them.
The bureau also has asked people to report nonemergency calls online or by phone. Two of its three precincts have been closed to the public.
The new measures are challenging for officers, Resch said.
“We really value the face-to-face interactions we have with the community,’’ the chief said on conference call with reporters. “This is not only an effort to try to prevent our members from becoming ill and reducing their ability to respond to calls for service, but we really do not want to be unintentional spreaders of the virus and unknowingly passing it on.’’
The bureau reported a 14.6% drop in calls for service this week, compared to last week. But the emergency calls are up 6.3% over this time last year, the chief said.
Officers are handing out citations for all misdemeanor crimes and taking only people facing felony charges or mandatory arrests, such as in domestic violence cases, to jail in an effort to reduce the city’s jail population.
Portland’s Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund has adopted new rules providing medical benefits and lost time to active officers with COVID-19 symptoms or who have come into contact with an infected person. They are supposed to seek medical advice within 48 hours.
Officers will be presumed to have contracted the virus through their required work via hands-on contact with the public or co-workers, unless the preponderance of evidence suggests it’s not job-related.
Disability benefits will be paid to active officers who are required to be quarantined.
The bureau has encouraged any civilian staff who are able to work from home to do so and has offered others flexibility in their shifts. In some units, the bureau has limited how many people are working together in an office, divvying up staff with half working one day and others working another.
At Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications, 911 dispatchers and call takers are sitting farther apart and their work spaces are being cleaned more frequently.
New dispatchers and call takers are being trained in a simulation room so they can distance themselves, with different teams training at different times, said Dan Douthit, a spokesman for the Emergency Communications Bureau.
In all police and emergency spaces, deep cleaning is happening more frequently, and hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes are offered to officers and staff.
“However, we are closely monitoring those because we understand that they’re in a very limited supply,’’ Resch said. “And we need to be very mindful of how we are using those.’’
The bureau isn’t taking enforcement action to ensure restaurants or bars follow Gov. Kate Brown’s order that they close except for take-out or delivery service.
Officers might encourage businesses to follow the restrictions or alert the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the appropriate regulatory agency, the chief said. Officers are also driving by businesses that are temporarily closed, just to make sure no suspicious activity is occurring at the locations.
With Portland’s protest season approaching, Resch was asked how the bureau would respond to any demonstrations.
Given the current coronavirus statewide restrictions, the chief said, “I would highly encourage no gatherings at this point.’’
Later in the day, the bureau’s public information officer Lt. Tina Jones added by email that despite all the coronavirus preventive measures, "We are still actively hiring.''