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Alone Together

April 1, 2020
Tony Montoya - SFPOA President

Whether it’s how we do our job or take care of our own families, it’s hard to think about anything but the COVID-19 virus. Quite literally, life as we know it changed, at least for the time being. Where you once would’ve seen some of the world’s most bustling streets, packed with cars, pedestrians, bicycles and, yes, even the electric scooters, we now see a scene you’d expect to find on the set of a post-apocalypse Hollywood movie. It’s eerie. It’s sad. It’s not our city, but it is definitely not our future either.

There’s no secret that over the last few years the SFPOA has not been happy with the leadership of Chief Bill Scott. We’ve had plenty of battles, some in public, some in private. Yet, as COVID-19 began to impact San Francisco, we all put our differences aside and came to the table to ensure that the SFPD would be able to protect both the public and its officers.

In a short time, we have collaborated together to try and make the hazardous job of policing a city during a viral outbreak safer for our officers. What might seem simple, such as allowing officers to use their BDUs (the more tactical and comfortable style of uniform) on a daily basis versus our regular patrol uniform, makes a big difference. In this case, we can wash our BDUs at home after every shift, killing potential COVID-19 exposure, where our normal patrol uniforms need to be dry-cleaned making daily washing infeasible.

We’ve agreed on how to screen 9-1-1 calls most effectively and how to conduct in-person interviews with reporting parties differently, all to reduce exposure of our officers and the public. Most importantly, we’ve agreed on how an officer who faces an exposure of COVID-19 is treated by SFPD and the City—ensuring they get speedy medical attention and are allowed to be quarantined to prevent exposure to others.

The need for these protocols bring up a very important point that our elected and appointed leaders must grapple with now. Police officers, firefighters, nurses, paramedics, none of us can “shelter-in-place.” We are repeatedly exposing ourselves to the virus everyday as we do our jobs of protecting and saving lives. As such, when an essential employee contracts COVID-19 it must be treated as a work-related illness. We cannot afford to allow treatment to languish, or go unused, as bureaucrats fight over who is going to pay for the medical treatment we deserve or while an essential employee burns through all their sick time and personal leave time trying to get better.

The failure by the Federal Government to address this issue for first responders affected by illnesses related to post 9-11 clean-up work was a national embarrassment. Thankfully, there are some legislators in Sacramento who are already taking action to address this issue. We just hope that political pettiness is put to the side so essential employees get the protection they deserve.

The scariest part of this situation is that it seems like we’ve been dealing with this crisis for an extended period of time. At the time of writing this article, the shelter-in-place order for San Francisco had only been in effect for a week. We all need to be in this struggle for the long haul, showing respect and compassion to one another. We must all make personal sacrifices to help our community stop the spread of COVID-19 as quickly as possible so we can begin to make our streets bustle again and return to a path of normalcy.