April 06, 2020
A veteran police lieutenant became the first city employee to succumb to complications from the coronavirus over the weekend.
Lt. James Walker, 59, died Sunday at Abington Memorial Hospital in Montgomery County after serving more than three decades with the Philadelphia Police Department. He was an active duty officer with the traffic district and became the first city employee to die from COVID-19.
“This weekend, we lost a friend, a family member, a hero,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “Any death is tragic, but today, it hits close to home. We have seen the first death in our family of city employees. This is a heartbreaking reminder that the virus is affecting people throughout our community—especially those on the front lines.”
The department already was reeling from the death of Sergeant James O’Connor, who was killed last month while serving a warrant as part of a SWAT team, Kenney said.
Officials did not provide information about when Walker last worked and what kind of duties he was performing around the time he became sick.
Philadelphia, unlike other U.S. cities hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, is not releasing data on the number of COVID-19 cases among city employees, including police officers. The city has 3,728 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 45 deaths.
To protect police officers, the city is following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and other recommendations, Kenney said.
"We do not plan any major changes," Kenney said. "But as we move forward and get additional advice from various medical sources, we may adjust."
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 President John McNesby recognized Walker's sacrifice for the city.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we send our deepest condolences to this officer’s family,” McNesby said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the entire Philadelphia police department. We should never forget the sacrifices of our officers and those on the front lines battling this pandemic and working tirelessly to keep our great city safe.”
Police staffing levels have not fallen off during the coronavirus pandemic, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw shifted resources to place more officers in uniform and on patrol duty, but plans are in the works if problems arise over time.
"We have a number of mutual aid agreements with our departments across the state," Abernathy said. "I think right now we are planning for that contingency, but we are a very long way away from that. We are comfortable with our officer levels at this point."
City officials are struggling to obtain personal protective equipment for essential employees, many of whom may be at higher risk based on their responsibilities interacting with the public. An order of 500,000 masks from a retailer in Europe got stalled and will no longer arrive, leaving the city to seek out supplies from other sources.
Police have all been given instructions on how to reduce their chances of infection while on duty.
"As we've we noted, there is a shortage of PPE," Abernathy said. "The protocols we have put in place are to ensure that officers keep their distance where appropriate, put on their PPE if and when it's necessary, and call in specialized units if they fear for the public safety."