AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department is looking into handling officers’ boots and uniforms differently when they’re soiled.
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday brought the concerns to the department when the city’s homeless ordinances recently changed, with concerns that if camps grow, officers will be exposed to more health hazards than ever before.
“The department has always preached that your uniform is a biohazard; do not take it inside your home,” Casaday said.
But he says many officers do.
There aren’t any washing machines at Austin’s four police stations, so officers are left to either pay for dry cleaning or wash their uniforms at home.
Casaday began pushing to change that a few weeks ago.
“The impetus for it was the homeless issue, but you know, shame on us. This is something we should have thought of years ago,” he said.
APD Assistant Police Chief says the threat isn’t only at homeless camps.
“They’re going to walk through blood at a crime scene,” Newsom said.
Newsom says many home visits are also risky, in hoarding situations or instances where animal or human feces is on the floor. He says officers are also exposed to trash and needles.
“I’m standing here telling you that we know our officers enter into unsanitary conditions frequently, but we’ve never even talked about any kind of boot cleaning apparatus or station at the substations.”
After watching LAPD implement a new germ-zapping robot and ultraviolet ray boot sanitizers to clean up its downtown station, following a case of typhus there, APD is focusing on three potential improvements.
Casaday and Newsom says they’re talking about the possibility of adding boot sanitizers at their main station and three substations. Casaday is also checking on rates from dry cleaning services to send off all uniforms for regular cleaning. They’re also working with the Health Department to determine whether there are any additional vaccinations APD should offer its officers.
The Round Rock Police Department already successfully dry cleans all of its officers’ uniforms.
APD already has a policy in place that allows officers to throw away a uniform if it’s been ruined by blood and receive a new one.
Casaday and Newsom are also discussing directing officers to use the booties they put over their boots at crime scenes in more situations, when there’s a health threat.
At the end of the day, Newsom says it’s about even more than just protecting officers, saying:
“Because, you know, the same stuff you walk through, you don’t want to expose your family or your kids to that.”