New Guy Gets Blame for Delayed Cleanup of Highly Contagious Bacteria at LAPD Station
Initial efforts to rid the LAPD's West Valley Station of a dangerous bacteria were delayed by hours because officers were unable to reach somebody at the city's General Services Department with the authority to dispatch a cleanup crew, according to LAPD and police union officials. The delay left officers working for hours inside the station at a time when the extent of the contamination was unclear.
It was late in the afternoon two Saturdays ago when the station's watch commander noticed a rash had broken out on his skin. He decided to go the hospital and doctors determined it was a treatment-resistant staph infection, said Steve Gordon, vice president of the union that represents rank and file LAPD officers.
"That's when there was something of a panic," said Gordon, who has spoken with several of the officers who were on duty that day. The watch commander holds the rank of lieutenant and is the hub of any station, supervising the sergeants and police officers patrolling the streets. He is the shot caller.
"For him to get infected, that means the enemy got behind the walls to an important figure in the station," he said.
The enemy in this case was Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, a highly contagious bacterium that can sometimes be life-threatening.
The department has not identified the source of the infection that a total of four officers picked up. Many officers believe it was a homeless man brought to the station earlier in the day, Gordon said.
In a statement issued days later when the infections became public, the department ensured that "all of the areas that may have been exposed have been disinfected." It turns out that took some time.
Around 5 p.m. that Saturday, station personnel called the city's General Services Department to request a crew to disinfect the station, according to Gordon.
But the request went nowhere.
"Evidently they had some new person working and he dropped the ball on the notifications," said LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green, who serves as chief of staff to Chief Michel Moore. Green said the watch commander made the initial call and never heard back from General Services.
Multiple calls were made over a five hour period, said Gordon.
"They were going back and forth," he said. Officers were told by a General Services employee that they were looking for a supervisor.
Concerned about getting infected, officers tried to continue working while avoiding the watch commander's office, the locker room where he'd dressed and the jail where he'd interviewed inmates, Gordon said. "They said it was very challenging."
Around 10 p.m., someone finally placed a call to a crime scene cleanup service that contracts with the LAPD, said Gordon, adding they arrived in half an hour.
Green said once proper notifications were made, General Services sent a crew the next morning to take over cleanup.
"I've set up a meeting with General Services to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.
"If the station is on fire, we can call the fire department," the union's Gordon said. "If there's an infestation of some skin disease, we also want an immediate response."
Over the 12 to 24 hours following the lieutenant's infection, three more officers were found to have MRSA, according to Gordon.
It's unclear whether a quicker cleanup could have prevented those infections.
Two are back at work and the other two are expected back soon, Gordon said.