Officers exposed to dangerous diseases while patrolling homeless camps

5 officers exposed to TB in past 2 years

INDIANAPOLIS - Officers working in the homeless unit may not face hardened criminals every day, but they do face serious dangers to their health.

Working across the homeless camps in Indianapolis may not be a glamorous job for officers with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, but the goal to engage camp members with the city’s social services is important.

Although the work is important, health issues for the officers have become a concern.

"Everyone who's living in these camps uses the restroom outside and then the second that's universal hygiene nowhere to wash up or clean your hands," Sgt. Bob Hipple said.

Officers are exposed to serious diseases every time they patrol the camps.

A recent report showed that five officers had been exposed to tuberculosis in the past two years.

"We know they've been exposed to it at some point, and chances are they've been exposed to it at one of these homeless camps and shelters, so we're documenting that it occurred," Hipple said.

Officers are tested each year, and fortunately, none have tested positive.

"We have to make sure we have our Hepatitis A and B vaccinations, we're also TB tested every year, " Hipple said.

Steve Kerr is the development director for Wheeler Mission. He was concerned about police and ordinary citizens who visit the camps.

"Even just private citizens going down there and wanting to do good things. I think they're putting themselves and possibly their families in danger," Kerr said. "The camps are becoming rat infested, who knows what's going on down there. I just think it's a detriment to our community."

Kerr said that any homeless person was welcome to seek help at Wheeler Mission or other social service agencies.

Follow Drew Smith on Twitter: @drewsmith1

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