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Shea: Badges to include black band for NYPD deaths from COVID-19

Wearing protective masks, NYPD officers attend roll call

Wearing protective masks, NYPD officers attend roll call Wednesday at the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn. Credit: Craig Ruttle

NYPD officers will soon wear badges with black mourning bands to honor the 27 cops and civilian department workers killed by COVID-19, Commissioner Dermot Shea said Thursday.

In a wide-ranging question and answer session on Twitter, Shea said officers will wear the badge bands — in normal times a display of mourning for cops killed in the line of duty — for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The loss of cops and civilian employees was clearly on Shea’s mind as he started the Q&A. Before taking questions, he asked his Twitter followers for a moment of silence to honor the 27 department members lost in the pandemic, a number that includes detectives, police officers, school safety officers, 911 operators and custodians, as well as other NYPD workers.

Despite current NYPD trends showing slow and study progress being made in bringing down the sick rate and positive COVID-19 tests among cops, Shea urged continued vigilance to combat the virus among department personnel. 

“We are getting closer to the end of this … but it is so important you don’t let up," Shea tweeted.

The police commissioner addressed a variety of NYPD issues related to the pandemic during the Q&A, including whether the department will use antibody tests, the possibility of 12-hour shifts for cops, and if deaths of officers from the coronavirus would be considered in the line-of-duty, which increases certain pension and health benefits for families.

Shea said that in a week, officers temperatures will be taken in all precincts and housing-police areas. A pilot program in eight precincts has not found any cops reporting to work with fevers.

As of Thursday night, 6,052 uniformed members were on sick report, or 16.7% of the police force, the NYPD said. The normal sick call rate is about 3%. Among those officers tested for COVID-19, some 4,190 were positive, with others still awaiting results, Shea said, adding that 1,450 cops had returned to work.

Of uniformed officers, 2,104 were out sick with the coronavirus as of Thursday night, as were 609 civilian members of the department, the NYPD said.

Asked if the department was going to switch to 12-hour shifts from 8-hour shifts because of a loss of sick cops, Shea indicated it remained a remote possibility, given the pandemic's effect on the NYPD.

“Anything can happened but what I know right now … I don’t think we are getting to 12-hour tours,” Shea said.

On the issue of whether there would be widespread antibody testing of cops before they returned to work, Shea said he was studying the issue closely with experts but didn’t specify if such testing would be conducted. The current practice includes making sure cops are at least fever-free for three days, Shea said.

Asked whether cops killed by the coronavirus would be considered line-of-duty deaths, Shea said it was still officially an area with many “unknowns.” He indicated that anyone who was healthy before the pandemic hit the city but reported for duty afterward, became sick and later died, would logically be a line-of-duty death.

“I would really have to scratch my head to say this wasn’t line of duty,” Shea said. 

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