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City police kept on call to stop virus spread

During the month of April, a few city police officers were kept on call at home in order to prevent interaction with others in the department and across the city to prevent spread of COVID-19, city officials said.

Mayor Derek Slaughter said Monday the coronavirus administrative leave policy, which he enacted early during the outbreak, enabled officers to stay home during minimum shift levels. A little more than $70,000 in salaries, that was in the budget, went to the officers, according to the city finance department.

At the beginning of the outbreak, the guidance was that COVID-19 was spreading quickly, Slaughter said.

City Police Chief Damon Hagan decided to go to minimum shift levels. For example, if the minimum shift level was four officers and five were scheduled, one officer stayed home to limit interaction and potential spread of the virus in the department and community, Slaughter said.

“That one officer, though, was on-call, alert and had to be ready to respond when needed,” Slaughter said. That did happen, he said.

“Once we noticed an uptick in crime we did away with the policy,” Slaughter said.

The mayor said he would review whether to reenact it should the virus surge.

“We must find ways to keep employees safe and keep public services ongoing,” Slaughter said. City Hall remains closed except for codes permit requests and for appointments.

“I believe it was the right call,” Council President Randall J. Allison said. “Had a number of officers been infected the force would have been dangerously compromised causing possible unforseen consequences,” he said.

Public safety is not an area the city can afford to take major risks with in regards to personnel, he said.

Allison likened the policy to “insurance.”

“You pay for it even when you don’t need it because there is no alternative source for the times you do need it,” he said.

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