The November 18 report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regarding outbreaks of COVID-19 in the state included a record-smashing 259 new entries over the prior seven days — among them the Lakewood Police Department, where eleven positive staff cases were reported.
Shortly after our story about the latest data was published, Westword was contacted by an anonymous group that described itself as employees of the LPD. The members said they learned about the outbreak designation from outside sources — among them, our article — and maintained that the eleven staffers identified by the CDPHE represented fewer than half of the actual novel coronavirus cases at the department. They accuse the department of failing to properly inform its crews about the situation, and of engaging in unsafe practices.
"There appears to be no concern at all for employee health and safety," the group's missive says. "At this point we are frightened and frustrated by the lack of communication taking place that puts our own health and safety (and that of our elderly or infirm relatives) at risk."
We shared these concerns with Lakewood Police Department public-information officer John Romero. He didn't dispute the claim that the actual number of infected personnel is now more than double the total recorded by the CDPHE, but stressed that "the department is following most, if not all, of the COVID protocols that have been put in place both locally and by the CDC," despite being "a critical government function" that is "exempt from the public health orders put in place."
According to the employees' group, the LPD, which boasts nearly 400 staffers and more than 100 volunteers, currently has "at least two dozen civilian and sworn COVID-19 cases in the department alone, and that number is likely to increase." (It maintains that the CDPHE count of eleven "does not include the numerous positive results that came back on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week.") Moreover, the group contends that "no one from management or the city has communicated this with us. We have learned about these cases from our positive co-workers, from CDPHE and from Westword's outbreak story. There has been ZERO communication about ANY of these cases to any employees. They are not communicating with us at all."
The possibility of further spread is great, in the opinion of the workers. "There are dozens of civilian employees who regularly access all areas of the building, who could have been making the choice to work from home had we known that COVID was running rampant through the department," they worry. "We feel we have been robbed of the personal choice to stay out of certain areas of the building, avoid certain functions, training sessions or meetings, or to work from home."
The group asserts, "There have been several thirty-plus-person training sessions this week where up to thirty people were crammed into our Emergency Operations Center. We feel the city is intentionally withholding information about positive COVID cases to keep people working in the office. Mask use in the department is very much optional, and we have personally witnessed buffet-style lunches and parties hosted in conference rooms with dozens of attendees."
Romero refutes many of these charges. For one thing, he emphasizes, "All employees who are able to work from home are encouraged to do so. Obviously, our patrol agents must remain on the street. But in many instances, divisions such as Investigations are encouraging all staff to work remotely. If it’s necessary for the employee to come in, they are only allowed a maximum of two days per week in the office. Teams have also been split up to avoid having too many people in any office area at once."
As for mask usage, Romero says that it "is consistent with local and federal guidelines as well. Signs are posted throughout the building to remind all employees that masks are mandatory when not at your desk. Since so many people are working remotely, most sworn and all civilian training sessions are being offered online via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Daily roll call for patrol agents has been moved to large training rooms to comply with social distancing standards. Again, masks are required."
Contact tracing "is handled by the City of Lakewood’s Human Resources Department," he continues. "Due to federal and state medical privacy regulations, HR is not allowed to release the name of any person who tests positive, but has a procedure in place to determine and notify those who were potentially exposed."
For context, Romero provided breakdowns of the City of Lakewood's contagious disease exposure protocols and the Lakewood Police Department's return-to-work decision matrix (accessible below). "These are just the most current documents," he stresses. "They are constantly being updated as guidelines and circumstances change. This is what it looks like today, but could be outdated as things change."
The department "has canceled numerous events and trainings to comply with orders and to keep employees safe," he adds. "We have had minimal COVID cases...based on the high-risk nature of our function. We believe this shows the procedures we have in place are effective."
Still, he continues, "to ensure both public and employee safety, we continually evaluate our policies and procedures as well as information provided by the county and state departments of health."
Click to access the City of Lakewood contagious-disease exposure protocols and the Lakewood Police Department return-to-work decision matrix.
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