Police union accusing FMPD of unsafe workplace practices during pandemic

Posted at 10:41 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 22:57:11-04

FORT MYERS — A police union is calling out the Fort Myers Police Department, saying it’s putting officers at risk during the pandemic.

The Police Benevolent Association said FMPD policies are forcing officers to potentially be exposed to the virus, and taking away paid medical and family leave if they contract it. But the department got back to us, saying it disagrees.

This all started Wednesday night with a message from FMPD Chief Derrick Diggs.

“An email was sent out last night, informing officers that the chief has decided to opt out of the FFCRA," said FLPBA Gulf Coast Chapter President Matthew Sellers.

He’s talking about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was passed by Congress to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The law allows employees to take off 12 weeks paid, for children that have been displaced from either school or daycare," said Sellers.

But there’s one exception: emergency workers. And Chief Diggs has decided to classify, not just officers, but everyone in his department as essential first-responders, which keeps them from getting that paid leave.

“In my mind, this is completely reckless," said Sellers. “The State of Florida is allowing their officers, all state law enforcement officers, to use this benefit.”

The department did respond to us, saying other agencies are using the exception for their staff as well, but Sellers said, Chief Diggs is putting some his officers at the department in a uniquely dangerous position.

“He still is conducting subject-officer interviews, in conference rooms, inside buildings, to this date. I’ve asked for them to be postponed, and he refuses," said Sellers.

And Sellers said, he has to be there with those officers, because he’s an advocate. But the closed environment makes him feel more at risk for catching COVID-19.

“It’s their right to have a representative with them during an internal investigation. The law provides that, and clearly, the Chief is interfering with that by putting everyone at risk here," said Sellers.

The department said it is requiring the use of personal protective equipment and has doubled its cleaning staff during the pandemic, but it said it will continue to conduct officer interviews out of a duty to the public.