Union City police chief details department’s struggles with COVID-19 during AG’s webinar

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Union City Police Chief Nichelle Luster detailed the department’s struggled with COVID-19 during a webinar hosted by the state Attorney General’s Office yesterday, speaking about the loss of Det. Alex Ruperto and noting that 27 officers have tested positive.

During the 95-minute virtual Town Hall, which was open to the press, Luster indicated that the UCPD has over 200 sworn officers – including special officers – and while the city is under two square miles, the estimated population is about 84,000 to 85,000 residents.

As of yesterday, officials disclosed that there are 3,116 coronavirus cases and 141 deaths in Union City. Among those totals are 27 police officers, including Ruperto, Luster said.

“As far as officers, since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve had 27 officers test positive, which obviously gave us some staffing issues. The majority of the positive cases were early on and one of those positive cases was Alex Ruperto.”

The police chief continued that due to staffing concerns, Ruperto was transferred from the training division to the patrol division. He was tested for the virus on March 27th and confirmed positive on April 1st, according to Luster.

After being hospitalized and eventually placed on a ventilator, Ruperto, one of the department’s original ESU members, died on April 16th.

“The most difficult thing for his family … and also his colleagues is the isolation that comes with this virus. Knowing that Alex passed alone and struggled alone is something that I think will impact everybody for quite a while.”

At the beginning of the virtual Town Hall, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal played a video paying tribute to all 10 law enforcement officers in the state who passed due to COVID-19 – just a few hours before the death of Hudson County Corrections Officer Zeb Craig was announced.

Others on the call included New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan, Middle Township Police Chief Christopher Leusner, and state Division of Criminal Justice Director Veronica Allende.

The entire virtual Town Hall can be viewed below:

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