CINCINNATI — A year ago, Cincinnati Police Department Asst. Chief Michael John and his rank-and-file were prepping for one of their favorite traditions.
The annual "Shop with a Cop" event pairs officers with children in need for a day out shopping for new clothes and other necessities. This year, though, Cincinnati police officers were advised not to volunteer for the event as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spike across the region and the country.
"COVID is hitting everywhere. It's hit the police department particularly hard," John said. "Just in the month of November, we had 55 officers test positive for COVID."
Exposure to officers has gotten so widespread across the country that it became the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among police in 2020, nationwide, according to the National Police Memorial Foundation. The 55 CPD officers exposed last month comprise 5% of the city's police force and make up, by far, the department's highest monthly new-case total.
It has changed the way CPD operates, John said. While he once enjoyed face-to-face rapport with his officers, outreach workers and community groups, now those meetings are held over Zoom and social media. It's the same for officers trying to engage the neighborhoods they patrol.
"So people weren't seeing officers that much. They probably weren't seeing officers as much out in the community and, obviously, that is a change in the dynamic we see," John said.
For a department that prides itself on visibility and projecting a presence into city neighborhoods, it's been a tough pill to swallow.
"It's critical that we're very hands-on."