The number of coronavirus cases inside the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has almost doubled in one week.
According to Sheriff Gregory Tony, seventy-seven employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Two of those people have since recovered and will soon return to duty.
One week ago, the agency had 42 confirmed cases among its 5,400 employees.
Veda Coleman-Wright, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, explains that the majority of the positive cases have come in the communications department, which includes emergency dispatchers.
One employee, Deputy Shannon Bennett died from the virus on April 3.
.@bsosherifftony shared his sentiments about the life and service of Deputy Shannon Bennett who passed away last night due to COVID-19. Deputy Bennett was instrumental in leading the initiative to further establish unity between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/iBRdGXNmBv
— Broward Sheriff (@browardsheriff) April 4, 2020
He was one of two deputies across South Florida who died of COVID-19 within two days, raising concerns about whether first responders being adequately protected.
Sheriff Tony told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Wednesday that his employees are equipped with proper protective gear, and have also been receiving it since Feb. 1, weeks before the coronavirus began spreading rapidly.
Tony was responding to criticism from union leader Jeff Bell, who recently claimed the sheriff has failed to provide sufficient safety equipment for his deputies.
That led Tony to suspend Bell last Friday, saying he made false statements, has engaged in corrupt practices, has exhibited conduct that is unbecoming, and has also not used proper discretion.
The deputies’ union announced Monday that it would hold a no-confidence vote on Tony beginning the next day. Voting ends Monday afternoon.
“These men and woman who serve under me, if they haven’t seen that I have their best interests at heart as of now and if they haven’t seen that I will do everything possible to make this agency the best agency in the country — that I am committed to them. If they haven’t seen it as of yet, it’s going to be a rough road ahead,” Sheriff Tony told The Sun Sentinel.
The former Coral Springs police officer became the county’s sheriff two years ago, after Gov. Ron DeSantis removed former Sheriff Scott Israel, also after a no-confidence vote. The union announced its vote against Sheriff Israel over his handling of the Parkland school shooting as well as the 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
However, Sheriff Tony says a no-confidence vote will not distract him, adding, “I have to stay focused. I cannot get caught up in the results of a vote of no confidence. …I need to keep moving this agency forward.”