Suffolk County PD Doing it Right Thanks to Decade Old Training with LSU
Just 3.5% of Suffolk County’s 2,500 police officers have been infected with the coronavirus, Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said, due in large part to biohazard training the department developed a decade ago with experts at Louisiana State University.
Eighty-seven Suffolk police officers have tested positive for the virus, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on April 23 had potentially infected 16.7% of people on Long Island, citing an antibody study that found as many as 2.7 million state residents had been afflicted.
“I think these protocols have played a critical role in keeping the infection rate low, not only what we have done but also when we did it,” Cameron said. “You need to get ahead of this very early because once the infection takes hold in the department, it’s very, very difficult to mitigate it.”
Thousands of first responders from agencies across the nation have been trained in protocols that began as pilot programs in Suffolk in 2009, according to Jason Krause, the associate director of operations and plans at Louisiana State’s National Center for Biomedical Research and Training Academy.
“Suffolk County played a very critical role in the development of bioawareness,” Krause said.
About 15,000 police officers and other first responders across the nation have been trained in the protocols, Krause said, and the center has been flooded with inquiries from agencies since the coronavirus pandemic began. First responders in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia have also received the training,
Noel DiGerolamo, the president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, praised Cameron for making sure members were properly trained and had adequate personal protective equipment nearly two months before the pandemic shut down much of the country.
“Three-and-a-half percent is an astronomical achievement,” DiGerolamo said.
Louisiana State, Krause said, is a member of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, a partnership between universities and federal labs that works with FEMA to train first responders on how to respond to terror attacks, explosions and other disasters.
“Our specialty is biological weapons, accidental pathogen releases and natural pandemics,” Krause said. “How do you recognize you have a biological incident happening? How do you respond?”
Cameron, who had taken a three-day LSU training on biological threats about 15 years ago, asked the university’s experts to develop a curriculum to educate police officers, public health officials, firefighter, EMTs and other first responders on biohazards.
Krause said the program took two years to develop. The cause of the disaster is less important than the strategy that comes next, he said. Topics covered by the protocols include the differences in responding to anthrax versus ricin attacks and the differences between toxins, bacteria and viruses.
Perhaps most important, first responders are taught about the type of equipment they will need to protect themselves for each type of threat, and how to avoid infection by safely donning and doffing personal protective equipment.
The protocols have been taught to recruits at the Suffolk police academy in Brentwood since 2014, and the department began creating refresher videos in late January that officers can view on the tablets in their patrol cars. One video, featuring Cameron, explains the differences between face coverings and how to properly handle them. LSU has also posted videos on its website intended to guide first responders through the pandemic.
Officers assume risks when they embark on careers in law enforcement, Cameron said, but their families do not.
“That is one of the unique aspects of a biological threat,” Cameron said. “You can bring it home to your family ... rarely is there a law-enforcement threat that jeopardizes the safety of your family.”
Keeping the police healthy, Cameron added, keeps the whole community healthy. “If you don’t have police officers coming to work, you can’t operate the police department and you can’t keep the public safe,” he said.