Union going full force to provide sanitizers, masks and other health safety needs to protect HPD officers from Covid-19

Joe Gamaldi, President

Since our last issue of the Badge and Gun, our city, our state, our entire country have been turned upside down as a result of the coronavirus/Covid-19. Not a minute goes by that it isn’t being discussed on the news, social media, around the station or at home with your families.

We at the HPOU understand that your safety during this pandemic is our No. 1 priority, as it is in your minds and the minds of your family members.

As we move forward through the coronavirus/Covid19 pandemic, I wanted to update you on a number of things the HPOU is working on to make sure you have the proper materials to do your job and to encourage the practices that will make your job safer. We are seeing hundreds of officers being diagnosed across the country and we have already lost officers in New York and Detroit to Covid-19. As of Monday March 30th, the Houston Police Department has 11 confirmed cases, and I ask you to keep them all in your thoughts and prayers.

Folks, it is important to take this seriously.

  • When going hands on (when possible) make sure to glove up first and wear a mask from your communicable disease kit, if you need more gloves or supplies for your kit make sure you ask for more.
  • Make sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer periodically throughout your shift.
  • Insure you are washing your uniforms regularly.
  • Practice social distancing the best you can given our line of work.
  • When arriving on calls, when possible, attempt to speak to complaints over the phone instead of face to face (block your number before calling).
  • If you MUST talk face to face to someone on a low priority call, have them step out of their home into open air and keep your distance.
  • We have successfully lobbied the Department to expand and start PDU/Teleserve desks at each station to assist with calls and allow officers with childcare issues to switch shifts to work those desks.
  • We successfully lobbied the department and municipal court system, if an officer felt urgently inclined to write a ticket, to stop having citizens “sign” tickets.

At the writing of this article, HPOU has also acquired and purchased over 3,600 bottles of hand sanitizer that has been given out to divisions. We have two 55-gallon drums and an additional 2,000 bottles of hand sanitizer coming at the beginning of this week.

We acquired more than 7,000 pairs of gloves and delivered them to stations that were most in need. The Department has about 9,000 masks and is due to receive another 5,000, and the City has just ordered another 250,000. We will continue to track down vendors for N95 masks to assist the department in securing more and purchasing them ourselves when they cannot. We will put out updates for you as we receive them.

The HPOU has also purchased and distributed cleaning products to all the stations to be able to wipe down shops and surfaces at the station. We have installed a refilling station at our Union Hall and will be able to refill cleaning supplies to the tune of 24,000 bottles, with more available if needed.

Kudos to HPOU 3rd Vice President Tom Hayes, who has become a master at finding hand sanitizer from unlikely places, negotiating the best price for us and overcoming every perceivable challenge to get the job done. We at the HPOU will continue to track down and purchase supplies you need to perform your duties and keep you safe and distribute them out to you as quickly as possible.

Any officer that has been ordered to quarantine and does not want to do so at home, we worked out a deal with the City at the outset for them to cover the costs of the hotel stay and they followed up with signing contracts with two hotels to house first responders.

We have taken the lead from the outset nationally (letter went out March 14), locally and in the state of Texas to get a “presumption” of coverage. This means that when any officer contracts the coronavirus, we can presume that he or she got it while on duty. Although it has not been a problem here at HPD (every officer who has contracted the virus has been carried line of duty), this is important to support other officers in the state and across the nation on this important issue.

We do not yet know the long-term health effects this virus can have, and it is important for everyone to have on-duty coverage. The HPOU will update you when we have more detailed information.

We partnered with the Houston Police Department in opposing the mass release of violent criminals from the jail population in Harris County. I’m happy to report that our combined advocacy yielded very positive results for the law-abiding, hardworking people of our community. Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton blocked mass releases of violent criminals – at least for the time being. This was a huge win for logic and reason within the criminal justice system, which has been severely lacking as of late.

Reminder, there are two ways to currently get tested for Covid-19: through the City Health Department by calling 832-393-4220 or by contacting Kelsey Seybold on their dedicated first responder hotline that was setup at the HPOU’s request. The number: 713-442-HERO (4376). By recommendation of the doctors for both the city and Kelsey, you need to have some form of symptoms in order to be tested. Otherwise the test could result in a false negative for the virus, wrongfully giving you the impression that you do not have it, when in fact you do.

HPOU 1st Vice President Doug Griffith and I have been traveling around the city to different stations and the testing centers on a regular basis to deliver food or supplies. We’ve found that you are all doing an amazing job. Once again, the men and women of HPD have stepped up to protect our community in trying times – putting their lives as well as their good health on the line. It doesn’t matter what the obstacles, hurricane, flood, large-scale events or a global pandemic, you all rise to the occasion and far exceed expectations.

On a side, but related note, we have jointly agreed with the city to press pause on our contract negotiations during the remaining weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. Our contract expires Dec. 31, so we still have plenty of time to resume talks. And don’t forget you have a three percent raise coming in July, virus or no virus. These incredibly trying times require everyone’s full attention and we will begin negotiating again as soon as things calm down.

Keep up the great work, stay safe, stay healthy and if you need anything I am only a phone call, text away, or you can also reach me at the following: email (jgamaldi@hpou.org), messenger on Facebook, DM on twitter (@JoeGamaldi).