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Masks meant for St. Louis police officers and fire fighters loaned to Schnucks

The grocery store chain delivered masks after police officers said they were short
Credit: City of St. Louis
City workers load personal protective equipment, March 27

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards authorized a loan of 12,000 masks – half from the fire department and half from the police department – to Schnucks to help the grocery chain survive an unexpected delay in its own shipment.

As a result, police officers, particularly in the city’s most violent area, North Patrol, are saying they’re short, and that department commanders have told them they cannot fulfill their request for more masks, 5 On Your Side has confirmed with multiple police sources.

The original plan was for the grocery chain to deliver masks to the city when its shipment arrived, which was supposed to be late Tuesday. On Wednesday, city officials told Schnucks they could deliver them by the end of the week, said Schnucks spokeswoman Erica Van Ross.

Schnucks made an emergency delivery of 1,000 masks to North Patrol today, Van Ross said, in addition to 13,000 masks the grocer promised as part of the original exchange, Van Ross said. That included 6,000 surgical masks and 7,000 KN95 masks -- one step below hospital grade masks, she said.

“We’re being told by the city that they have masks there, but we have seen and heard police officers saying otherwise, which we had no idea about,” said Van Ross. “We certainly would never have taken any masks if we had any inkling of any shortage.

“The understanding we had was that, ‘We have some masks we can loan, we have a good supply here you go.’ We had no idea and there wasn’t any impression that police officers are having a difficult time getting masks. Had we had any idea that were the case, we would never have borrowed masks from them to begin with.”

Mayor Lyda Krewson told 5 On Your Side that police officers have never gone without PPE as a result of the “loan,” to Schnucks, and that the city has an “adequate” supply of masks.

“In my mind, I think this is a good story about people who have enough and are sharing with somebody to protect another worker,” she said. “That’s the way I saw this, especially knowing we’d get it back.

“If we had enough to spare to help another worker, we want to do that. We’re trying to get masks to Metro and social service workers who are out trying to do deal with the homeless across the street and running the emergency shelters. They’re all on the front line, including our officers who come first.”

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Krewson’s spokesman Jacob Long confirmed the public safety director approved the exchange.

“Jimmie believes grocery store workers are very important, and they asked for our help,” Long said. “Schnucks is a major donor to The Police Foundation, which gives us bullets and guns and other important equipment.

“Nobody went without a mask. We wouldn’t have done it if it would have jeopardized the health and safety of any of our officers.”

Van Ross said city officials are still telling the grocery chain that their supply of personal protective equipment is good for first responders.

But in a department-wide email obtained by 5 On Your Side, a police commander characterized the department’s supply as “limited,” and stated, “We are constantly researching avenues to obtain more through various means.”

In a statement, St. Louis Police Officers Association wrote, in part, “Cops are at the very back of the line when it comes to receiving lifesaving protective equipment.”

The union bought masks and other equipment for officers because the department was in short supply at the beginning of the crisis, said Jeff Roorda, the union's business manager.

“Even now, when equipment is in apparently abundant supply, officers are being browbeaten and intimidated by the Hayden administration every time they ask for so much as a rubber glove. This has to stop. Lives hang in the balance. Hopefully, this unfortunate incident will get the attention of the people who can do something about the terrible lack of lifesaving supplies our brave officers have to endure,” according to the police union’s statement.

The Ethical Society of Police, a membership organization that represents primarily black officers, also says it bought 500 masks for officers after learning of a possible shortage due to the Schnucks loan, wrote the organization’s president Sgt. Heather Taylor in a statement to 5 On Your Side.

“We are disappointed in the Mayor and Director of Public Safety for donating the supplies without knowing the totality of the shortage within SLMPD. Anyone giving away public safety supplies of PPE in a deadly pandemic is clearly unaware of how deadly that could be for us and for the public. Just this morning, employees in SLMPD were advised of the shortage of PPE, like surgical masks and goggles. Now, our employees have to have approval for extra supplies, which contradicts the statements of the Mayor’s Office. Everyone deserves PPE right now, especially health care workers, public safety employees and those providing critical needs at our grocery stores.”

Krewson said the city has about 50,000 masks as of her last count, and the city has shared masks with the St. Louis County Police Department and other entities.

“We’re all in this together,” she said. “We’re not going to hoard our stuff.

“We’re going to keep enough for our workers. I take responsibility for it if folks think it’s inappropriate, but I think it’s completely appropriate for us to help out other workers whether they work for us or some other entity. As long as we have enough, we’re going to help out others.”

RELATED: How St. Louis area police are protecting themselves from COVID-19

Krewson added that Chief Hayden assured her that North Patrol and all other divisions had enough masks.

His spokesman Sgt. Keith Barrett referred all questions to Krewson.

Schnucks Chief Operating Officer David Peacock asked various governmental leaders – including St. Louis County -- and businesses if they had any surplus supplies when he learned the shipment was going to be delayed by three days. The city was the only governmental agency to respond with an offer to help, Van Ross said.

“Our company feels very strongly about supporting law enforcement, and our leadership has a long history of supporting law enforcement,” Van Ross said. “We were very surprised and we were emotional about the idea that any first responder is out there putting their life on the line without protection that in this environment is a basic protection that is necessary.

“Regardless of whatever the situation turns out to be, the idea that we would, in any way, have had a role in a police officer not having a piece of vital equipment was not acceptable to us.”

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