Officers pile up PPE and cleaning gear donated by Lenco Industries earlier this spring.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Police Department was hit hard by the novel coronavirus this spring, particularly the command staff.
Police Chief Michael Wynn told the Police Review and Advisory Board on Tuesday that department had to deal with multiple cases within its ranks.
"I can say that the last few months have not been by any means easy on the department," he said.
The department went into the pandemic with six confirmed cases simultaneously. Three of them were senior members of the command staff.
Wynn said exigent plans were being made before emergency declarations were announced in March.
"We kind of recognized that this was coming and that we had to have a plan in place for it," Wynn said.
Detective Bureau Commander Captain Mark Trapani had told investigative personnel to pack up and leave and not come back until called upon.
"It got pretty scary," Wynn said. "We were working remotely and after about 10 days, we realized we were in trouble and we were not going to be able to sustain the force."
He said those remaining were split into two teams who rotated seven days on and seven days off. Those who showed symptoms were told to leave the station and isolate.
There also was a group of officers whose spouses or partners are in health care, which compounded the problem.
"It was a double whammy," he said. "We had three families where everybody was sick at the same time. Some of our people were real sick."
Wynn speculated that the coronavirus could have been picked up in New York, which became a hot spot during the pandemic. Twelve days before COVID-19 was detected in the county, he returned from New York with other members of the force. After the FBI training, he held a command meeting in his office with around 10 colleagues.
"That is when the command started developing symptoms," he said.
Wynn said they saw the writing on the wall and began stockpiling personal protective equipment immediately.
"We did some interesting things ... really early on when PPE was hard to come by, we went down with my department credit card and we cleaned out Home Depot," he said. "We put a call into Carr Hardware and went on Amazon."
He said they joined with emergency operations centers throughout the county and leveraged county resources.
The department also received a $25,000 grant from the Berkshire County Emergency COVID Fund and was eligible for federal reimbursement. Add with another U.S. Justice Department grant, the department paid very little out of pocket for PPE.
At the station, officers leave and enter through the same egress and everything is cleaned regularly. Access to the public has been limited.
"We felt bad. We were still open but we had to isolate," he said. "We had to turn people away. A lot of people from the community with food who wanted to support us."
Officers carry extra masks as well as gloves, eye protection, and hand sanitizer. The department has also accelerated access to testing.
He said the force's protective measures seem to be working and they have gone several weeks without officers showing symptoms.
"At the end of the six weeks, a lot of them didn't want to go back," he said. "They got more quality time with their families than most of them will see in their careers."
Mayor Linda Tyer said they are in continued contact with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and have sufficiently stockpiled PPE in the city. She said although there seems to be a slight lull in COVID-19 cases as the city begins to open back up, they are ready at any time to increase protective measures.
The city has recorded 172 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and five deaths; there are currently 27 active cases in the city and 140 recoveries. Nearly 4,000 tests have been administered to Pittsfield residents.
"We all feel at the moment we can catch our breath," Tyer said. "... But we also feel confident that we have the foundation and structure in place where we can immediately go back into mitigation and control efforts."