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Cop stuck with dirty needle at Seattle park, fears disease diagnosis

An SPD officer in an unrelated case disposes of a used needle found on the street. (Jason Rantz, KTTH)

A police officer was stuck in the foot with a dirty needle while walking through a Seattle park on patrol this past Monday. Now, he’s receiving intense treatment to protect him from diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis, renewing concerns over police and resident safety in Seattle parks.

“This officer was simply walking through the grassy field of a city park, near where children were playing, when he stepped on the needle, which was hidden in the grass,” Sgt. Rich O’Neil, vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “The officer was taken to the hospital and is now undergoing ongoing, debilitating treatment to prevent HIV and other diseases.”

The officer works with the Navigation Team, the SPD’s unit that focuses on Seattle homelessness.

According to SPOG, the officer was on a routine walk through of Baker Park, a tiny residential park in the Crown Hill neighborhood. As the officer was walking, he felt a sharp pain between his toes that became so strong, he wasn’t able to stand.

Upon inspection, the officer saw a needle hub on the sole of his work boot. After removing the needle, the officer and his partner immediately traveled to a nearby hospital, along with the needle, so that it could be tested. He was met by colleagues at the hospital, who offered him moral support as he became concerned and was described as in a bit of shock, according to a SPOG source.

Protocol

The medical protocol following exposure is lengthy and emotional. The officer is currently taking an anti-HIV cocktail, followed by additional tests to see what diseases he may have been exposed to.

“The men and women of the Seattle Police Department put themselves on the line every day and one of the hazards of working in public safety is the risk of injury,” Sgt Sean Whitcomb of the SPD told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “We’re very disheartened that this officer was injured and all of us here are hoping for a speedy recovery.”

Will Lemke, spokesperson for the Navigation Team, tells me that members have “…boots and footwear that are supposed to be resistant to water, mud, human waste, needles, etc. and we take measures to prevent these types of incidents.” Though it’s not required, officers can insert steel shanks, reimbursed by the SPD, for added protection.

“This incident is the first I’ve known of on the Navigation Team and we’re taking it very seriously. We’re concerned about it, the issue with the officer is being addressed…” Lemke said.

Though he can’t get into specific details due to privacy concerns for the officer, Lemke notes that, especially after an incident like this, the team has routine meetings to discuss safety precautions.

“There are trainings, we have a dispatch meeting every morning where we talk about the different challenges that are out there,” Lemke says. “These things are of concern. These hazards are out there. It can happen in a park, it can happen in an encampment, it can happen on the street. The city tries to have needle pickup … and we take it very seriously.”

A dirty needle in a park

The particular rub in this case is the park appeared clean and free of homeless.

While incidences of cops getting stuck are rare, it highlights the concern that Seattleites are at risk. Indeed, even a clean park could hide some extremely dangerous hazards, a consequence of the city’s alarming drug crisis.

“[The officer] commented that to take the meds you have to be at least 57 pounds which would eliminate most children,” SPOG’s O’Neil told me. “He wasn’t cleaning up anything. Simply walking through the park. This could have easily happened to any of the children playing nearby. This incident highlights how dangerous Seattle has become not only for our citizens, but for our officers and other first responders.”

The officer told SPOG that he would rather it be him that got suck, instead of a child enjoying the park. He has kids and fears for their safety even more after this incident.

Just weeks ago, another father, former FBI operative and current Seattle City Council candidate Naveed Jamali, was walking in Seattle, near the waterfront, when his young children found needles and used condoms in the open.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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