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Are The LAPD Being Honest About COVID Cases At Police Stations? Reports Show Only Two Outbreaks Despite Hundreds of Cases

Photo by Brian Feinzimer

[dropcap size=big]C[/dropcap]hief Michel Moore said the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) saw a “substantial” increase in COVID-19 transmission this Tuesday during a Los Angeles Police Commission meeting. In a week, 84 officers tested positive for the virus compared with 45 officers last week, nearly doubling new cases. Moore called the Central Area Community Police Station a “hot spot if you will” during the meeting. In a week, 26 officers at the station in Skid Row tested positive for COVID.

But according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health website, only two LAPD stations are experiencing a cluster of cases as of publishing. The central area station that Moore described as a hotspot isn’t mentioned on their list of businesses and other settings currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak (defined as three or more cases among staff). The health department lists just 15 cases between LAPD’s West Valley Station and Rampart Station, as of August 24.

Only five additional cases have been added to the list of outbreaks at LAPD facilities in the last week. An indication that COVID cases are either not being reported to the health department or there is some sort of a lag between when the LAPD confirms cases and they’re reported as outbreaks.

For some Los Angeles community members, the lack of transparency associated with outbreaks at police facilities raises concerns. Cops are regularly documented interacting with public members without wearing masks (despite Chief Moore’s order to do so). LAPD vaccination rates hover just over 50 percent, although officers became eligible for inoculation back in winter. 

“The baseline concern is that these are public employees, so our tax dollars are paying them,” said Adam Smith, an organizer with White People For Black Lives. “So logically, the community that’s employing them should have a general idea of where these outbreaks are taking place.” Smith regularly tunes into the weekly Police Commission meetings, during which Chief Moore gives an update on the new COVID cases. He began noticing a discrepancy in the number of reported cases versus the number of outbreaks weeks ago. “Folks should know where these outbreaks are popping up.”

Smith also questioned how the LAPD is handling contact tracing. “Those [26 cases] at central division...were they all symptomatic cases? Who were they in contact with there? That could wipe out the whole station in terms of exposure and people having to quarantine. That’s where my mind is at about why they wouldn’t want those outbreaks on the department of public health radar,” he said. 

NEW: In a July memo, LAPD Assistant Chief Robert Marino, thanked all personnel on behalf of @LAPDChiefMoore for "reducing the spread of Covid-19 over the past year."

Meanwhile, more than 1 in 5 employees at the Dpt. have contracted COVID and 10 have died (+ 3 spouses). @LATACO https://t.co/NMHjIVk2Xz pic.twitter.com/Sni9Fg1WLj

— Lexis-Olivier Ray (@ShotOn35mm) August 26, 2021

“It's worse than ever, as far as masklessness,” said William Gude, a former bootlicker turned cop-watcher that we profiled in March, describing what he’s seen recently on the streets of Hollywood. “I think they're more brazen about it. I think there was a time when I could kind of shame them into putting masks on. Now I can't.” Gude grew suspicious of the number of outbreaks being reported during the deadly winter surge earlier this year. “I saw three or four stations that had over 100 infections. This is back in February. Hollywood station was not listed. So at first, I took a little pride. I'm like, you know what, yeah, I protected these guys in a way. Until I got some private messages from Hollywood cops who are unhappy with the way that Michel Moore is handling masks and COVID,” Gude said. “These cops came back to me and said ‘no, we have had over 100 infections in the station.’”

In total, Gude says he’s at around 700 individual instances of cops not wearing masks. But he doesn’t expect much to happen to the officers that violate policy. Gude spoke to a supervisor recently that handles complaints who told him that Chief Moore determined that no officer will be punished for not wearing a mask. Out of all the complaints he’s filed so far, he’s only received an answer about one. “They didn't sustain the complaint because what [the officer] did wasn't considered misconduct in the first place,” Gude told L.A. TACO. The department determined that the officer could have made different choices. “Not should have but could have done differently. So it means to me that masks are optional,” said Gude.

Experts say that wearing masks (in addition to getting vaccinated if you’re eligible) is essential in preventing the spread of COVID, especially in light of the more transmissible Delta variant. The county health department currently requires that everyone wear masks indoors in public settings regardless of vaccination status. They also require that employees who are not fully vaccinated quarantine after exposure (fully vaccinated employees are permitted to keep working). Close contacts of people that have been infected are allowed to keep working if they’re fully vaxxed and they’re not displaying COVID symptoms; however, the CDC still recommends that they get tested.

When asked last week if the LAPD is reporting COVID outbreaks, the health department pointed us to their website and said: “Public Health strongly encourages all non-residential settings, including workplaces and worksites, to report cases as soon as possible.” They added that “rapid reporting” can help limit an outbreak before it’s even classified as one. In their guidelines for workplaces responding to the pandemic, the health department says that clusters of cases should be reported no later than 48 hours after detection.

Reporting an outbreak can be done over the phone or online through a simple form that asks for basic contact information, type of facility and the number of laboratory-confirmed cases within 14 days. The health department is currently investigating more than 200 of these outbreaks at schools, hospitality establishments, fire stations, jails, and movie production sets across the county.

When asked this week if the latest batch of COVID cases confirmed by the LAPD mentioned during the Police Commission meeting had been reported, the health department said: “Public Health is currently investigating these reported LAPD cases and, once they are confirmed, it will then be publicly reported on our website.”

Last week, LAPD spokesman Captain Stacy Spell said he forwarded our questions regarding COVID protocols and the discrepancy in the number of cases versus the number of reported outbreaks, to a public information officer (PIO). Multiple follow-up emails sent to Captain Spell were ignored, and we never heard from a PIO.

Update September 1, 2021: Nearly two weeks after we first reached out with questions, LAPD spokesperson Detective Meghan Aguilar got back to us. In an emailed statement, Aguilar said the LAPD reports COVID cases daily to the City of Los Angeles Personnel Department, Medical Services Division (MSD), not the health department. "It is the responsibility of MSD to determine if the confirmed cases have met the threshold for an outbreak, as defined by LA County Public Health."

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