Puerto Rico on Wednesday closed its fifth police station in a week, raising concerns about the U.S. territory's ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic as officers accused the government of exposing one of the largest police departments in a U.S. jurisdiction to COVID-19.
More than 150 officers are under quarantine as dozens await test results on an island that has reported 11 deaths and more than 280 confirmed cases amid a month long curfew that has shuttered beaches, parks and non-essential businesses.
“It’s not fair that the government is dragging its feet. What do they want? To be left without police officers?” said Gregorio Matias, vice president of a local police union who demanded more protective equipment.
The first police station to close is located in the popular tourist town of Rincon, where the 42-year-old wife of one officer recently died from COVID-19. Also shuttered are police stations in Aguas Buenas, Caimito, Moca and San German.
Matias said the union requested protective equipment two months ago but has barely received any items.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you.
“We are cannon fodder,” he said.
Police Commissioner Henry Escalera told The Associated Press that officers have items including gloves and hand sanitizers, and that his department is awaiting delivery of more items that will allow him to distribute 30 face masks to each officer, along with protective gowns.
“There’s a shortage,” he said. “We hope that they will arrive."
Puerto Rico also has closed a 911 call center, a fire station in the island’s capital, a medical emergency response office and a municipal emergency management office.
Critics are demanding the government investigate who police officers have been in contact with, including inmates and prosecutors, warning the virus could be more widespread than estimated since police have been stopping hundreds of people violating a curfew that is one of the strictest in any U.S. jurisdiction.