There have been days when Tanaira Camacho hasn’t seen her dad as he has worked long hours in the Chelsea Police Department to make sure the city stays safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is that kind of dedication in the face of the state’s highest infection rates by a long shot that inspired community members and teens like Camacho to coordinate a Citizens Parade on Friday afternoon to honor the police for their dedication during the pandemic.
“My dad is a detective – Fernando Camacho,” said Tanaira. “He’s been working a lot. There are days where I just haven’t seen him at all. I worry about him because his job is pretty scary, particularly now.”
Front and center at the Parade was Chief Brian Kyes – who has been at the front of watching the numbers for Chelsea during this pandemic and figuring out how to keep officers safe in the midst of such uncharted waters.
He said he was very heartened that residents took the time to organize and participate in the parade on a holiday weekend.
“It really feels good to be appreciated by the people we work for,” he said. “The Friday before Memorial Day is a really busy time for people. I’m sure everyone here has things they need to do. The fact they could come by and show appreciation to the men and women of the Chelsea Police Department means a lot.”
Kyes said the Chelsea Police have been very careful during the pandemic, and so far they haven’t had a lot of officers impacted- with only three officers testing positive since the outbreak started in one of the most affected cities in the state or nation.
“Based on the really high infection rates in the city – we’re about five times the average of any other city in the state – and the size of our department being 107 officers, we’ve had only three officers test positive and they’ve all returned to work,” he said. “I had it in my own household. It hit close to home. My daughter tested positive. It was a challenge, but we were able to get through that…We did expand our testing of officers because they also had family that were exposed to a sick person. We sent a lot for testing, but they all came back negative.”
Officers over the last few weeks, and even now, are working under stressful conditions. He said with the infection rates he tallies up every week, he finds that rates are so high that officers have to assume everyone has the virus.
“That’s what we’re doing,” he said. “Early on the mindset might have been we wanted to know addresses of quarantined people…so we were on the safe side if we had to respond there. But the virus spread so quickly. The idea now is that the virus could be anywhere at any time.”
Kyes has instituted protections like not having officers ride together in cars, and eliminating the roll calls that happened three times a day in normal times. Instead, officers show up, get the keys to the cruiser and go out the door. At the front desk, officers are now separated at the work station – one at the regular desk and the other at the Records desk.
It is a stressful situation to operate under, in a job that is typically stressful anyway in an urban city like Chelsea.
“It goes on and on,” Kyes said. “All you can do is protect yourself from everyone. The officers are anxious. We all are. They aren’t so worried for themselves, but they are worried about being exposed and bringing it home to their families or their parents or someone with an illness…There is a level of anxiousness with that.”
And that is exactly why School Committeewoman Kelly Garcia and Councilor Melinda Vega Maldonado organized last Friday’s Citizen Parade. Vega Maldonado knows firsthand as her husband is a police officer, and they’ve been very careful.
“We wanted to stage something that showed a lot of appreciation for all the great work in COVID-19,” she said. “We know firsthand. My husband is a police officer and it’s hard. We wanted to support each other right now, and members of our police department and first responders don’t get a lot of appreciation.”
Said Garcia, “It really ended up being a community effort. We wanted to have some sort of tribute for these officers for stepping up and protecting the community.”