1 in 4 Milwaukee police officers has contracted COVID-19

NOW: 1 in 4 Milwaukee police officers has contracted COVID-19

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Despite the pandemic, police officers are among those who had to continue going to work every day. Back in May, the Milwaukee Police Department estimated officers responded to 500 COVID-19 positive locations each week, and now CBS 58 Investigates has new data showing how many Milwaukee officers contracted the virus.

“We go where the calls for service are and if someone has committed a crime, the suspect says I’m COVID positive, we don’t get to say oh well then you don’t have go to jail today,” said Inspector Nicole Waldner with the Milwaukee Police Department.

Throughout the pandemic, Milwaukee police officers faced several challenges including a record number of homicides and large protests against police brutality.

“Our rules were not the same as yours or other civilians that didn’t have to go to work every day,” Inspector Waldner said. “You work until you have symptoms or you know you have it or you’ve had close contact.”

In May, MPD reported 36 employees had contracted COVID-19. Now, nearly a year into the pandemic, 84 civilian employees and 475 sworn officers, more than a quarter of the department, have tested positive.

“I don’t think 475 is outrageous or small, I think it’s to be expected,” Inspector Waldner said.

Across the country, COVID-19 was the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths. According to Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit that tracks police deaths, 219 officers died of COVID-19 in 2020.

All MPD officers survived the virus, but Dale Bormann, Jr., the president of the Milwaukee Police Association, says a few MPD officers did have severe cases.

“We did have a couple officers that were touch and go,” Bormann said.

Bormann says those officers are back on the job now.

Doctors still don’t know much about the long-term consequences of COVID-19 or how it could impact people with physically demanding jobs.

“There’s a likelihood, there’s at least some percent of people, who are gonna get this inflammatory process that attacks your lungs, it attacks your heart, and it’s going to decrease your ability to exert yourself,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof with UW Health.

Inspector Waldner says some officers recovering from COVID couldn’t go back on the street immediately.

“If officers come back but they’re not street ready, we still have offices that had lingering effects that had to work in the office for a bit until they felt good,” Inspector Waldner said.

On top of the officers out with COVID, nearly 900 MPD employees had to quarantine for two weeks due to an exposure.

“As an officer is out on COVID, that requires other officers to step up and take the workload that officer who is out deals with,” Bormann said.

There have been outbreaks in the telecommunications department and District 5. Inspector Waldner says while some areas were hit with cases, it never became unmanageable.

“A few people get it at a work location and then other members get it, usually the partners, but then it’s contained,” Inspector Waldner said.

Despite the risks, Inspector Waldner says throughout the pandemic, officers have continued to do their jobs and that’s what they will continue to do.

“It’s just not a choice,” Inspector Waldner said. “You just take all the precautions and we’ve been pretty lucky.”

MPD officers started getting the vaccine a few weeks ago. Officers continue to wear masks, and Inspector Waldner says despite shortages at the beginning of the pandemic, they now have enough PPE.

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