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Ethical Society Of Police Urges Transparency About COVID-19 Cases Among First Responders

St. Louis police Sgt. Heather Taylor is president of the Ethical Society of Police.
Heather Taylor

Police officers, firefighters and paramedics are on the front lines in the fight against the coronavirus. If someone gets shot, they have to respond, no matter the risk to themselves. If someone has a heart attack, they rush to the scene, even while the rest of us stay distant and safe.

Clearly, these first responders are at risk. But in St. Louis city, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards has said he will not release information on those serving under him who are infected with COVID-19 — including the number of infections. A city spokesman confirmed this in an April 10 email to St. Louis on the Air.

“At this current point in time, of course we are reporting the number of positive cases among City employees, including first responders,” Jacob Long wrote. “But it is the current position of our City Counselor and Director of Public Health that we not share it with the press or disclose anything more specific publicly, per federal, state and local laws.”

St. Louis police Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police, sees this as a problem and notes that some cities have been releasing such information.

On Monday’s talk show, she joined host Sarah Fenske to offer her perspective on the matter.

Taylor said that in addition to not reporting to the press or the public the number of COVID-19 cases occurring specifically among the city’s first responders, there’s little information available to those working within the police department.

“When someone tests positive, we’re not asking for their name, we’re not asking for their date of birth — all we are wanting is to know what division and what day, that’s it,” Taylor said. “We’re not asking for more than that ... we want to know what hazard will it put us in; did we come in contact with someone in that division? If we work in homicide, did we come in contact with someone who’s in traffic safety, for instance, which had some of the very first positive cases for COVID-19?”

Taylor commended some commanders for, in her words, being “brave enough to defy the [St. Louis] Department of Health and Judge Edwards’ orders on that.”

“They have come out and given numbers — not who these people are, who the officers are or the civilians are — [but] they have come out and decided, ‘Hey, this is important, because what we don’t know could kill us,’” Taylor said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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