Detroit Police 911 operator, 38, dies from COVID-19; 'He was a first responder,' chief says

March 24, 2020, 12:00 PM by  Alan Stamm

The coronavirus death toll includes a Detroit Police Department emergency services officer, Chief James Craig announces.

The 38-year-old man, a civilian 911 call-taker, had an earlier respiratory condition and died early Monday at an unidentified suburban hospital.

Craig said he spoke with the victim's parents. "Their request is that his name not be released and we will honor that," the chief added during a livestreamed media briefing Tuesday morning with Mayor Mike Duggan at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters. 

The 11-year department employee, who earlier worked for three years at the Detroit Department of Transportation, "was a first responder," Craig said. "He's going to be truly missed."

James Craig: "Officers, when healthy, are showing up for work, taking extra shifts."

Duggan noted that the case shows "it's not just elderly people dying from the disease. There's something about it that attacks airways."

At least five other Detroiters have died from COVID-19, the viral lung disease, according to Monday afternoon's daily report from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Craig's uniformed ranks also are affected. Detroit reportedly may request Michigan State Police help with street patrols and emergency runs as a rising number of officers have to self-quarantine, the chief indicated earlier. 

More than 280 officers reportedly are staying home and nine have tested positive for the virus. There's no current staffing shortage, Craig said at the briefing. "Officers, when healthy, are showing up for work, taking extra shifts."

Because the deceased call-taker had worked earlier this month, colleagues moved Monday to a backup communiucations center set up in 2018 in preparation for possible interruptions from terrorism or natural disasters. "We were up [at the new site] in three hours," the chief said. "I doubt that any citizens were even aware of the transition. After a couple of days of deep cleaning, the communications center and Real Time Crime Center will be back."  

On a related topic, Craig said the pandemic has changed a shift-starting routine. "Traditional roll calls certainly don't support social distancing," he noted. Instead, officers check in electronically and get information packets without lining up.

Precinct door signs ask visitors not to enter unless it's an emergency and to make crime reports by calling (313) 267-4602, a new overflow number. "But by no means are we closing the doors to stations," Craig added.

In another sign of the time, all arrest and search warrants are submitted digitally to the county prosecutor's officer rather than in person.

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