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Rantz: Seattle Police Dept. lying after four more staff get coronavirus

Mayor Jenny Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best. (Mayor Durkan, Twitter)

The Seattle Police Department announced three more employees tested positive for the coronavirus, but the department is hiding key details about public safety.

The internal email, sent by Chief Carmen Best, reports the impacted locations (where presumably the employees visited or were located) as North Precinct, the Communications Center, and Park 90/5 in SoDo. Park 90/5 previously shut down due to a coronavirus positive case.

If you’re hoping for details from the SPD — including basic information they already released in the email I reference — you won’t get them. They’re claiming they can’t release anything. I think they’re lying.

Coronavirus police secrecy is dangerous

The email announcement doesn’t offer any personally identifiable information about the three employees beyond the buildings they visited. It doesn’t even identify them as officers or civilian employees. Chief Best promises they’re “screening employees who have had close contact.” This, of course, assumes the infected person remembers the close contacts they had at the time they contracted COVID-19.

Officers are justifiably concerned and frustrated with the secrecy because they don’t know if they’ve been exposed, which means they could be asymptomatic and come in contact with an at-risk member of the community or an older or immune-compromised family member. And several have told me Chief Best isn’t leading effectively during this public health crisis as a result.

These cops — and the public — are owed answers.

The SPD is lying

The SPD is withholding information, which tells me the situation is worse than they are comfortable admitting.

When asked to confirm details in the very email the chief sent to the department, an SPD spokesperson told me sent an utterly useless, boiler plate statement:

To ensure the privacy of all employees and to remain in compliance with HIPPA [sic] laws, the City of Seattle will not comment on any individual employee diagnoses. The safety of our employees is a top priority, and the Seattle Department of Human Resources quickly developed protocols if any first responder or employee tests positive or interacts with someone who tested positive.

If someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, the Seattle Department of Human Resources will work to immediately notify all those who came into close contact with that individual. The department will also work with Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) to conduct an enhanced cleaning of the employee’s workspace and other workspaces as necessary.

Of course, I didn’t ask for a comment on an individual employee diagnosis. I asked if any more officers tested positive for coronavirus. I responded with a follow-up: “How many officers were tested as a result of today’s announcement that 3 officers tested positive for covid-19?”

The SPD’s response? “We will not be releasing that information so that we can ensure the privacy of all employees and to remain in compliance with HIPPA [sic] laws.”

I responded: “To clarify, you’re not confirming the detail of 3 officers testing positive or you’re not confirming details of how many people have been impacted?”

Their response? “Both.”

So, did Chief Best violate HIPAA laws? That’s essentially what the SPD is implying. She didn’t, of course. They’re just lying to the public, scared of what we’ll report.

A shameful display

This is a shameful display from the command staff of the SPD, Chief Carmen Best, and Mayor Jenny Durkan. A random spokesperson assigned to field incoming media requests isn’t making this decision. It’s coming from above.

They’re hiding important details and they’re pretending this is about privacy laws. It’s not.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the SPD had a tough time holding onto police officers. They were often mistreated by city council, offered vacuous support by Durkan, and beat down by loud, cop-hating socialist activists. The staffing levels were dangerously low.

Now, we have a coronavirus outbreak. The staffing issues never went away. We have employees testing positive for COVID-19, cops self-quarantining, and the city won’t tell us what the numbers are. You can see where this is going.

Seattle cops won’t be able to book most misdemeanors. They are understaffed as it is.

“Folks are on their own now,” an officer told me this week. “SPD will be around, but don’t expect a response unless you’re being actively murdered. This is the biggest free pass given to criminals in years, and there have been many free passes doled out by [King County Prosecutor] Dan Satterburg and [Seattle City Attorney] Pete Holmes.”

Citizens won’t get to purchase firearms for self-defense because the governor deemed gun stores non-essential. And it comes just in time for prolific offenders to recommit a crime seconds after their arrests, not inhibited by any time in a jail cell. And a possible outbreak within the SPD that the city won’t address. Yeah. Sounds like they have things under control.

Coronavirus police update.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter.

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