BLUE ISLAND, Ill. (CBS) — Among those who have tested positive for the coronavirus recently in Illinois is a police officer in south suburban Blue Island.
But instead of quarantining those who had direct contact with the officer, the city’s mayor made a move that shocked many – he shut down the entire police department.
As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported, the 40 full-time and 30 part-time men and women who make up the Blue Island Police Department could not work from the police station, nor fulfill their duties.
The essential workers were ordered to stand down, sending city and state representatives to stand up.
“We always have to have someone patrolling the streets,” said Blue Island Ald. Fred Bilotto.
Yet, officers in Blue Island were ordered by the mayor to stop patrolling and go home for 14 days.
“He caused a major panic – not only in the city of Blue Island, but in surrounding communities wondering: ‘Is this going to be us next? Are we safe?’” said state Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island).
Rita started filtering calls from Gov. JB Pritzker’s office asking what was going on Saturday night.
“This could be a domino effect, not only in the towns I represent, but across the State of Illinois,” Rita said. “A police department shutting down creates undue chaos.”
Bilotto said he was also surprised by Mayor Domingo Vargas’ decision.
“If you need to get them out the building to sanitize, then get in there and sanitize,” Bilotto said. “But you don’t tell the entire department to take off for two weeks.”
But the mayor said he called for the Cook County Sheriff’s office to step in after learning there were others ill at the police station.
“If there’s four other city employees that have ailments,” Vargas said.
Mayor Vargas said one employee is hospitalized awaiting COVID-19 results, and he felt until every officer could be tested and cleared, they all posed a threat.
“Ordered to stay at home until we got clarification and a green light for them to come back,” Vargas said.
When officers at other departments – including the Chicago Police Department – tested positive, officers in close proximity were quarantined.
Blue Island has just one police station. Bilotto believes the mayor did exactly what Gov. Pritzker told people not to do.
“A knee-jerk reaction, possibly a panic,” Bilotto said.
The mayor acted within the parameters of a city ordinance – which the Blue Island City Council revoked during an emergency meeting Sunday night.
But the mayor said that action left even more uncertainty.
“What measures they have taken to implement to guarantee the safety of their personnel and the residents of Blue Island, that they know 100% sure that these officers on the streets are not infected with the COVID-19,” Vargas said.
Now, police are back in uniform patrolling – and in the nick of time. This week, the old Metro Hospital will reopen to deal with an influx of ER beds this pandemic will require.
“The more police, the better,” Bilotto said. “If we didn’t have local guys on force, it would definitely be detrimental.”
Meanwhile, the entire police department building has been sanitized and cleaned.
The mayor plans to hold a news conference on Tuesday to further explain and talk about his concerns.