Veteran CPD officer dies of COVID-19

Veteran CPD officer dies of COVID-19

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Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck identified the officer as Marco DiFranco. His death is the first in the nearly 14,000-person department, which has seen more than 60 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

A veteran narcotics officer in the Chicago Police Department died of COVID-19 early Thursday, officials said.

The officer’s death is the first in the nearly 14,000-person department, which has seen more than 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday.

Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck identified the officer as Marco DiFranco.

“His sacrifice underscores the threats that are faced by public safety employees who are not, by nature of their profession, allowed to shelter in place, shelter at home,” Beck said at a City Hall news conference, where was joined by the Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Kevin Graham, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Sources said the 50-year-old officer has been with the CPD since 1998 and was assigned to the Narcotics Division based out of the CPD’s Homan Square facility. Over his career, DiFranco had earned more than 150 departmental awards, Beck said, including the Superintendent’s Honorable Mention and a special commendation.

Beck said the deceased officer leaves behind two children, ages 7 and 10, and has a brother who is also a CPD officer in the Narcotics Division. The deceased officer’s family, as well as his brother, are all in quarantine, Beck said.

However, it was not immediately clear if the officer’s family would receive line-of-duty death benefits.

“We’re looking at all circumstances,” Beck said. “It’s way too early to do that at this point.”

Before the news conference, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), whose Northwest Side ward is home to scores of Chicago Police officers, said the officer’s death should be considered a line-of-duty death with all of the honors and benefits that includes.

“But, that’s a whole `nother issue. I’m actually trying to find out and do something about that as we speak. I’ve been on the phone with some of my colleagues about this,” Sposato said.

“I don’t want this to turn into a New York where the firemen and the police officers have to fight for a duty death. We’re gonna have to do something really fast.”

Since the virus first hit the area, Chicago police officers “have been putting their lives on the line every day to fight this virus and keep Chicagoans safe,” Lightfoot said at the press conference.

He is the second city employee to die from the virus, Lightfoot said. The mayor on Wednesday had announced the first death of a city employee, but offered no details or any other information.

Lightfoot said she spoke with DiFranco’s widow shortly before the press conference and offered her condolences.

“Those are very hard conversations to have when a wife and family [are] sitting in that moment with their grief, and I always offer my sincere condolences and sincerely offer to support the family in any way I can,” Lightfoot said. “But having been through death and grief myself, these moments are so surreal and they’re so hard.”

Dr. Allison Arwady, who also was at the news conference, said she knows of no other first responder in Illinois who has died of the virus to date.

The officer contracted the virus last week and was hospitalized this last weekend, Lightfoot said. He worked undercover and therefore had minimal public contact, Beck said; Lightfoot said he was in a one-officer car.

“This officer was an example of what our first responders … are doing every day,” the mayor said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday morning, announcing the death of a Chicago police officer from COVID-19.Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday morning, announcing the death of a Chicago police officer from COVID-19.

Graham said the union is “truly devastated” and urged officers feeling depressed to reach out to the employee assistance program.

John Catanzara, who finished first in the first round of the election for president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he fears the death could be the first of many in the ranks of the Chicago Police Department.

“The fact that we were not prepared in any way, shape or form for this is kind of ridiculous. Even if the officer did have pre-existing conditions, if we had proper masks, proper sanitizers, there could have been precautions taken much sooner for people with those conditions so they weren’t so directly exposed to this stuff,” Catanzara said.

“But, there are more important priorities for politicians in this city than obviously the main focus of what they’re put in office for. … One of my biggest complaints is they spent over $1 million for legal bills so people in this country illegally don’t get thrown out. That’s our taxpayer money … that could be spent on first-responders.”

Catanzara said City Hall is to blame for the shortage of protective gear.

“It falls right at the mayor’s door. And it ain’t just her. It was [former Mayor] Rahm [Emanuel]. It was every single one of them. Their priorities are so backward, it’s ridiculous,” he said.

“And then, she’s going to play like first responders are so valuable. But we just passed a thousand-day mark with no contract. I get it. It’s a little upside-down time right now. But, what about the 950 days before that? It’s a joke.”

Lightfoot at the news conference said the notion that CPD was unprepared “flies in the face of the reality.” She called Catanzara someone who is “uninformed” and “unconnected” to what is going on with the crisis.

“The Chicago Police Department from the beginning of this crisis was one of the first to receive thousands of pieces of equipment,” Lightfoot said.

Arwady said first responders and health care professionals are always the top priority when distributing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Earlier this week, Lightfoot announced the Hotel Essex in the South Loop would set aside 274 rooms for Chicago’s exhausted army of first responders, allowing police officers, firefighters and paramedics to no longer worry about bringing the novel coronavirus home to their families.

Graham has been pushing the city to minimize the risk to police officers by providing additional masks, closing police stations to the public and discontinuing police roll calls. Graham finished a distant second behind Catanzara and faces him in a run-off.

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