Chicago cop dies as coronavirus takes toll on forces nationwide

A highly decorated Chicago police officer has died of coronavirus, becoming the department’s first virus-related death as police across the country grapple with the pandemic. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday announced the death of 50-year-old Marco Di Franco, a 21-year veteran assigned to the narcotics division in the detective bureau. 

Lightfoot wouldn’t say whether Di Franco suffered from any underlying conditions, citing privacy concerns. A medical examiner’s report has not yet been released. Lightfoot called Di Franco’s death “painful news.”

“Healthcare workers and first responders like this officer are putting their lives on the line every day to fight this virus,” Lightfoot said. “Tragically, this officer gave his life to that fight.”

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Interim Chicago Police Chief Charlie Beck said Di Franco contracted the virus last week and was hospitalized over the weekend. Di Franco leaves behind his wife and two children, 7 and 10. His brother is also an officer in the same narcotics unit, Beck said.

Beck said Di Franco was highly decorated and had received 154 awards over the course of his career.

“His sacrifice underscores the threats that are faced by public safety employees who are not, by the nature of their profession, allowed to shelter in place, shelter at home,” Beck said. “We’ve always been more at risk for violence because of our profession. Now, I think, we are more at risk for virus because of our profession.”

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted the department is considering whether to categorize Di Franco’s death as on-duty because of first responders’ increased risk of exposure. As of Wednesday, 64 people within the department had tested positive for coronavirus. Guglielmi said the sick officers are receiving the “best care available” while the department is prioritizing infection control protocols within police facilities.

Departments across the country have struggled as officers test positive or call out sick to quarantine after exposures, and some have seen employees die. In the virus epicenter in New York City, the NYPD reported Wednesday that 6,172 uniformed members are on sick report — 17% of the department’s uniformed workforce. Typically, about 3% of uniformed officers are out sick. 

More than 1,200 uniformed personnel and 150 civilian NYPD members have tested positive for the coronavirus. Five employees have died — Detective Cedric Dixon, senior police administrative aide Gwendolyn King, police administrative aide Giacomina Barr-Brown, school safety agent Sabrina Jefferson, and custodial assistant Dennis Dickson.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said on Twitter that the NYPD is working to backfill patrol and detective positions and encouraged personnel to be ready to help. 

“Have your uniform ready, be ready to pick up the slack for the man or woman next to you that’s out sick, because we’re going to need you to step in until they come back,” Shea said.

Shea has said the department would consider increasing patrol tours to 12 hours, but so far that hasn’t been necessary. Governor Andrew Cuomo said if the absences increase to the point that operations in the city are compromised, he would ask state police to fill in or potentially deputize officers from other areas of New York state to help.

Detroit’s police force has also been hard hit by the virus. The Detroit News reports the 2,200-officer department has 522 officers confined to their homes and 76 members who have tested positive for the virus, including Police Chief James Craig. Craig told CNN some of the department’s non-essential units have been moved to the hardest-hit stations to help with the most pressing work of answering emergency calls. 

Craig himself has been confined to his home as he recovers while assistant chief James White takes the reigns. The department has also seen deaths, including 50-year-old police Capt. Jonathan Parnell.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says the city is expected to be among the first in the nation to deploy rapid-testing kits, which will allow first responders including police officers to quickly obtain results.

Craig reportedly said quarantined members of his department are eager to return to work.

“That’s a testament to the kind of police officers we have here in the city of Detroit,” Craig said.

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