As COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths go off the charts in California, PERF spoke with five police executives on Monday afternoon about how they are responding to the surge, how it is impacting their agency, and when they expect their officers and staff to be vaccinated.




Source: New York Times

LAPD Chief Michel Moore

Much like the healthcare workers and other first responders, we are seeing a significant increase in the number of COVID-positive members of the department. We had 2,134 as of this past Friday, and unfortunately we lost our fourth employee, a communications operator, Friday night. Over 850 are at home due to COVID. About two-thirds of those are sworn members of the organization. And 1,252 have survived this virus and come back to work.

Our protective measures continue, with the requirement of face coverings, hand sanitizing, and boot sanitizers, as well as moving to an alternative cloth uniform. The safeguards we put in place 10 months ago have continued.

Six of our people are in the hospital, and one is in very grave condition. In talking with their families over the weekend, those hospitalized mostly don’t have underlying health issues. They’re in their 30s and 40s. The gentleman we just lost, Ray Guerrero, was 51 years old. So these are not the cases we’ve seen in the past in Los Angeles County, which were people with underlying health issues, or who were 60 to 70 years of age or older.

Enforcement Efforts at “Unmask” Demonstrations

One recent change is our enforcement efforts at non-essential businesses. We’ve had some “unmask” demonstrations. These are individuals who believe it’s their First Amendment right to not wear a mask. They go into essential businesses or other locations and purposely take their mask off and try to intimidate customers or store owners.

Today we’ve had about seven different instances, and there was one yesterday at a major mall. Our officers were very hesitant to take enforcement actions, and we had largely sought voluntary compliance. But with the blatant nature of this and our health system being extremely compromised, I directed that we would start making arrests if necessary when people will not take a mask or leave a location. That has improved the public perception, and we’ve seen people comply once they had that confrontation.

Unfortunately, elements of the population continue to try to capitalize on the willingness of law enforcement to handle this in a non-law enforcement manner.


Los Angeles is opening up a mass vaccination center at Dodger Stadium. We expect that to be the largest in the nation, and we should have a soft opening by Friday. That will be followed by an additional site in south Los Angeles by the first part of February. They’re planning to  vaccinate 4,000 to 6,000 a day at the beginning and then 12,000 per day at Dodger Stadium.

So far we haven’t been required to permanently staff vaccination sites. We have added some patrols. Generally the crowds and gatherings have been orderly and have not required a police presence.

The region continues to distribute vaccine to category 1A, which includes hospital workers and fire/EMS. 1B, which includes police officers, was supposed to start in the middle of January. We think that is now more likely to happen towards the end of January and into February.

We are now being vaccinated only when fire has unused doses. So far, about 125 LAPD officers have been vaccinated over the last 9 days. If fire has unused doses, they’ll call us and we’ll get a volunteer over there quickly and get them vaccinated.

We did a survey of our people, and 60% of the 9,500 people who filled out the survey said they would take the vaccine immediately if it was available. Another 13% said they have some questions, and about 20% expressed reluctance or said they were not going to take the vaccine.

A logistical issue is the state system of tracking vaccines. There’s a state application that is meant to inventory and track the vials, distribution, and immunization, including scheduling and prioritization. That has been intermittent at best. The state system is being reworked to handle much higher volumes and frequencies. The hope is that the new system will roll out in the next week or two, which would be helpful for a county of 10 million people and a city workforce of over 35,000.

Long Beach Chief Robert Luna

We’re seeing a lot of similar things to Los Angeles, on a smaller scale. Our city has had 460 deaths, the majority of them in long-term care facilities. As of today, we have 261 residents hospitalized for COVID-related causes.

Hospital bed capacity is hovering at or around zero, which is causing a lot of problems. There are ambulances waiting with patients for 6, 8, or even 12 hours here in Long Beach. That’s for any medical issue, not just COVID-related issues. That impacts us when we have a medical issue with a prisoner. For example, if I have a drunk driver who has been injured and has to be looked after by the police, officers have to sit there with the driver until he or she gets the appropriate medical care and can be booked into the county jail or the jail medical ward. Our officers have to wait with them for up to 12 hours at times. That impacts our patrol staffing. We’re trying to do everything we can. You really have to think hard before taking someone into custody. If they have any medical issues, you might be giving up 10 or 12 hours. It’s really impacting the way officers think about bringing someone to jail.

I think a lot of us did a good job planning for worst-case scenarios back in March and April, and a lot of those plans weren’t needed. Then we got a significant surge towards the middle and end of November.

Since around Thanksgiving, our internal cases are up 46%. We’ve had a lot of people off of work. Thankfully we’ve only had a couple hospitalized, and we haven’t lost anybody to COVID. Because of the plans we put in place earlier, we’ve been relatively good with regards to staffing in the field.

We’re disinfecting. We hired cleaning people to come in with specialized equipment to go through the offices, particularly after someone has tested positive. We’re also doing that with vehicles and in our jail.


Our vaccinations start on January 14. It’s not mandatory, but we are absolutely encouraging it. Employees sign up on a website, and every single employee, including civilian staff, will have the opportunity to sign up starting on the 14th. We will be getting the Moderna vaccine.

We’re hearing that about 60% will take the vaccination, and we’re hoping that will be closer to 70%. There are some doubters out there.

There have been some cases where we’ve already gotten extra vaccines that the fire department is not using. Those come in ones and twos.

They have been distributing the vaccine to the 1A group, which includes all health and medical workers. That’s been going well at all five hospitals here. Today they’re starting a broader scope of health workers. Using CARES funding, we are assigning a sergeant and 8 police officers to each of our vaccination sites. We’ve been in communication with Pasadena, and unfortunately they experienced fights in line this past weekend. We want to try to prevent any of that from happening.

All our special event folks, who aren’t covering special events right now, are doing ingress and egress of traffic for vaccination sites.

San Diego Chief Dave Nisleit

We’re seeing an increase of cases here in San Diego. As of yesterday we’ve had just shy of 192,000 cases in the city of San Diego, with 1,857 deaths. We’re testing over 33,000 folks a day, and the average positivity rate is 13.4%

We have about 2,600 staff between civilian and sworn. As of this morning, we’ve had 205 officers test positive. 144 of them are back to work. 73 are at home now, 61 of whom are recovering from COVID and 12 of whom are awaiting test results. That’s having an impact on staffing.

On November 1, we were at 43 positive officers, and now we’re at 205.

We purchased a commercial sanitizer and had some personnel certified to use it, so we’re able to use them instead of hiring a private contractor. That’s saving us some money.


We were supposed to start getting vaccinated this week, but the county pushed that back because they had not gotten far enough through the 1A group. We have been able to piggyback on these other groups when vaccines become available. For example, last night we received a call that there were 10 vaccines that could be used by law enforcement if they got there in the next 30 minutes. Through those opportunities, we’ve already had over 200 officers vaccinated.

We’re hoping our vaccinations start next week. They will be administered by our fire department, which has 50 medics trained by the county to administer the vaccine. It’s voluntary, officers will sign up, and they’ll receive it at a site that has already been used by the fire department.

They opened a mass vaccination site this morning at Petco Park, where the Padres play. Our involvement is minimal. We’re staffing it with traffic control officers, who are civilians employed through the San Diego Police Department, along with four officers. They’re managing traffic congestion and making sure everything stays orderly.

San Francisco Chief Bill Scott

In March, the counties in the Bay Area, including Santa Clara, Alameda, San Francisco, and Marin, were all in unison on the shelter-in-place orders. That has paid off. And we’re still working with and coordinating with the surrounding counties on consistent shelter-in-place and mask orders. I think we got more bang for our buck because all the counties in the area were doing the same thing.

The city and county of San Francisco has had 25,135 cases as of last Monday and 205 deaths. As of last Tuesday, we had 239 COVID-related hospitalizations, which is actually low. We’re not in terrible shape with ICU bed availability.

Per state rules, we can lift our stay-at-home order when ICU bed availability rises above 15%. We’re not there yet, but we’re close to it. We’re hoping to get there so that we can reopen some things and get to some sense of normalcy. Right now movie theaters, gyms, museums, salons, and barber shops are all closed. Restaurants are only allowed to open for takeout and delivery. The streets are very quiet. During a briefing this morning I was told that our Christmas gatherings didn’t put us in as bad a position as our Thanksgiving gatherings did, which is good. Hopefully we can start opening things back up in the next month or so.

We have 139 positive cases to date internally. We also track COVID exposures, and we’ve had 774 of those to date. When we have an exposure, a doctor assigned to the department interviews that person and decides whether that person needs to be quarantined. If they meet a certain threshold, they are quarantined. I think that’s helped us keep the cases as low as they are, though we have seen a spike recently.


We have not started vaccinating our police officers. We’re still in the 1A tier, and the focus is on the health officials. I’m told that we will hopefully be in 1B in about a week or so, if not before.

I expect we’ll have about 60% of the department willing to take the vaccine, though we haven’t done a formal survey. A lot will take it, some aren’t sure about it, and some are in the middle.  

Chula Vista Captain Phil Collum

In the department we’re seeing the same thing as in the larger community, with a spike throughout the course of December and into January. Throughout December and early January, we seem to be running around 5% of staff impacted in one way or another. Our total staffing is around 375, and we’ve had 20-25 out on average. The vast majority of those have been identified as having some form of exposure, rather than testing positive. We remove them from the workplace for a defined period of time for testing. We currently have 19 people out, and 6 are out for having tested positive. The rest are out for possible exposure or because they’re feeling sick.

To date, we’ve only had a couple occasions when employees needed to go to the emergency room, much less be hospitalized. And those employees have since recovered. Hopefully that continues.

Enforcement Efforts

We are seeing an increase in requests for enforcement. We partner with our code enforcement, which is separate from the police department. Code enforcement, along with the city attorney’s office, has taken the lead role on businesses and organizations or groups that are violating the health order. That’s been a tremendous resource to us. We assist them by sending officers to the scene to evaluate a complaint of a violation, then they handle the follow-up or any enforcement that’s necessary. That process has been working as well as it could be working.

We see much better adherence to the health best practices among the public. We are continuing to lead with education and voluntary compliance, with enforcement only when needed.


We do not have a date for when the county will be inviting law enforcement personnel to be vaccinated. We are anticipating that may be by the end of this month.

In the meantime, our county is continuing with vaccinating the 1A group, which is medical personnel. As every location works through vaccinating medical personnel, each day it’s possible that there will be excess vaccines for that day. Whenever there is excess, they contact folks in the 1B group, including law enforcement.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.