Williamsport -- During the coronavirus shutdown, the Williamsport Bureau of Police reportedly paid $70,010 in law enforcement salaries for agents and officers. The officers "were permitted to stay home for about a month during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic," PennLive published in an article on Friday.
Known as the "coronavirus admin leave policy," according to Chief Damon Hagan, certain agents and officers were allowed to work from home between the dates of March 31 to April 26. The Unit Commander determined how to fairly distribute the hours and make sure each shift had the appropriate coverage of agents and officers.
"Other police departments across the country were reporting sick cops, some of whom were dying," said Chief Hagan. "Without the knowledge we have now, we had to decide, 'what can we do?'"
Concerned about the continuity of the workforce should a number of officers become infected with COVID-19, and facing a reduced number of calls because of the shutdown, the Bureau chose to reduce the staff physically coming into the office.
"All of this was to slow the spread of COVID-19," said Chief Hagan.
Although the agents and patrol officers chosen for each shift did not have to report to work, they were on call, according to the chief. "Officers couldn't take a holiday--there was nowhere to go," he said. While on call, officers could not be out of town or "otherwise imbibed."
City Council President Randall Allison released a statement on Sunday evening supporting Chief Hagan's decision to keep officers at home, in a "ready to respond state."
"Had a number of officers been infected the force would have been dangerously compromised causing possible unforseen consequences," wrote Allison in a Facebook post. "Public Safety is not an area we can afford to take such major risks with police or fire."
"I would liken it to insurance," said Allison. "You pay for it even when you don't need it because there is no alternative source for the times you do need it."
Proactively addressing the county's coronavirus projections, the police department set up an on-site decontamination facility. Like area health care providers who also anticipated higher rates of infections than what occurred, they were ready with additional PPE and other strategies to minimize infection.
"Other city hall employees were also permitted to work from home while receiving full pay," Allison said in his statement.
Detailed information pertaining to the amount and nature of work performed by city employees was not available, but Allison said, "I do have first hand knowledge of some of the employees that worked from home and they were putting in more hours than their normal work week in the effort to keep the business of the city up and running even under these trying circumstances."
In response to Council President Allison's statement, Chief Hagan said, "I appreciate the support of City Council in this difficult time."