All New York’s Police Agencies on the Front Lines of COVID-19 Response
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is receiving well-deserved praise from across the country for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor has been a strong advocate for the health and safety of New Yorkers and has taken concrete steps to slow the spread of this virus by marshalling resources to our hospitals and setting up drive-through clinics at state owned locations like Jones Beach and SUNY Stony Brook Medical Center. He has even suggested using SUNY dorms as triage centers should the scale of the pandemic grow to a point where that is needed.
While our medical professionals are on the front lines treating the sick, important logistical and safety concerns remain. Thankfully, the state has a large, dedicated and highly trained police force that is working tirelessly to make sure those sites remain safe, secure and orderly. All four units that make up the PBA of NYS including the University Police, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police Division of Law Enforcement (DLE), New York State Park Police and New York State Forest Rangers are working around the clock at sites across the state from Long Island to Buffalo in partnership with other groups including the New York State Police, sheriffs and local police.
The 1200 men and women of the PBA of NYS all have specialized training, including incident command system (ICS), and have shifted their focus at a moment’s notice to respond to the needs of their fellow citizens of New York State. They are uniquely prepared to provide effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure. This training was critically important because many of the sites being used for testing are just parking lots or state parks, and were never intended for this type of purpose. Thanks to this training, they were able to take these spaces and turn them into orderly and functioning sites in a matter of days and due to this effort thousands of New Yorkers are able to access these facilities every day. This is truly the front line in the battle against COVID-19.
When people enter one of the many sites like Glen Island Park in Westchester, Jones Beach in Nassau County or Stony Brook medical center in Suffolk County, they arrive with potentially life-threatening illness. The first person they encounter when entering one of these locations is often a University Police officer, a Park Police officer a DLE Officer or a Forest Ranger, who provides them with the information they need to access vital testing services. The members of the PBA are also there to ensure an orderly and safe process for the medical staff.
These men and women are putting their lives, and the lives of their families at risk because of their dedication to their job. This has become increasingly clear as several officers have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. In fact, a University Police officer at Stony Brook recently tested positive with COVID-19. We have every reason to expect that more of our members will be exposed to the virus and will test positive in the days and weeks ahead.
Every unit of our union is actively engaged in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. However, their day to day responsibilities do not go away during a crisis. There have been 23 search and rescue incidents in NYS during the March timeframe, but a third of the Ranger force is deployed at various sites downstate. Further, DLE has responded to over 2700 calls for service in March alone, and SUNY assisted with a police officer who was shot in Cortland. The members of the PBA are stretched thin in response to this unprecedented crisis, and many are working 70, 80, or 100-hours a week to meet the demand.
Much like other first responders and front-line medical staff, the men and women of the PBA need additional support. While they have adequate supplies at the moment, as this response continues over the days and weeks ahead, there’s growing concern about a dwindling supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) that is so vital to help mitigate the risks they are facing. Only time will tell if the tremendous efforts of so many will be successful, but if not carried out properly, the effects could last a lifetime as we have seen from past incidents like 9/11 and the aftermath of that event. Our force is ready and willing to do what needs to be done, we just ask that they continue to receive the support needed to protect them – to ensure that they can go home to their families safely.
Ryan Law is PBA President & University Police Officers Director.