A suburban mayor has suspended all police department activities after an employee of the department tested positive for coronavirus.
Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas made the decision Sunday. Vargas told NBC 5 a police department employee tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and although the person hadn’t been at work for at least a week prior to the positive test, officials are looking into whether the individual was in contact with other city or department employees.
“We are working in the best interest of the city of Blue Island,” he told NBC 5. “We’ve taken measures to address concerns and we’re being proactive. Our main concern is the health and safety of our communities and our surrounding communities.”
Cook County Sheriff’s deputies and the Illinois State Police will patrol Blue Island and respond to 911 calls, according to Illinois State Rep. Bob Rita.
Vita criticized the mayor’s decision, which he called “unilateral” and “rash.”
“Mayor Vargas made a unilateral decision at 1 a.m. Sunday to suspend all police department activities. At no point did the mayor’s office contact my office, any member of the City Council or any other leaders in making this rash decision,” he said in a statement.
Vita called for an emergency meeting to address community policing.
Vargas told NBC 5 he had been in contact with the chief of Illinois’ Homeland Security Emergency Management, and also spoke with the Department of Health before making his decision.
The Blue Island police station is currently being thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, but there is no word on when it, or the department, will be back up and running.
In a statement, Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office encouraged local police departments to “act responsibly” while dealing with the challenges coronavirus poses.
“Police officers are essential employees who do valuable work to protect and serve,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “The health and safety of all Illinoisans are the Governor’s top priority and the administration is working with ISP to inform local governments on proper protocols. The governor would urge leaders in Blue Island to follow guidance from the CDC and IDPH.”