For today’s Daily COVID-19 Report, Chuck Wexler interviewed four Florida police executives about how spring break is affecting their operations, particularly with respect to COVID risks:

  • Clearwater Chief Dan Slaughter,
  • Miami Beach Chief Rick Clements,
  • Daytona Beach Chief Chief Jakari Young, and
  • Fort Lauderdale Assistant Chief Frank Sousa.


Clearwater Chief Dan Slaughter

Wexler:  How is spring break affecting Clearwater?

Chief Slaughter:  It's definitely a unique challenge for law enforcement. Back in September, our governor issued an executive order that's made things murky. His rules do not allow cities to have ordinances that impact bars and restaurants without justifying the financial impact on those institutions, so it makes the legitimacy of local orders complicated.

Wexler:  Last time I talked to you, you were on the cusp of getting your officers vaccinated. Has that happened yet? 

Chief Slaughter:  I really would have liked to have gotten my officers vaccinated prior to the spring break period. Unfortunately, that did not occur. The governor did expand the availability of the vaccine to police officers who are 50 or older. So in Pinellas County, we're going to start vaccinating officers on Friday who are 50 and older.

Wexler:  When does the spring break period actually happen? Does it affect all the cities in Florida the same way?

Chief Slaughter:   It definitely affects the coastal communities that have beaches. We started our spring break deployment, and saw an increase in activity, starting on the weekend of February 27, and we anticipate it continuing to be an active spring break season through the Easter holiday weekend.

Wexler:  How do your officers feel about their responsibilities regarding spring break?  

Chief Slaughter:  We do put responsibilities on them through the spring break season that probably aren't very popular. The same fatigue that the country has seen with regard to precautions, the officers have the same. And they're exposed to an environment where the public is really polarized about whether these requirements are necessary. It’s especially difficult when you have state executive orders that make the enforcement angle extremely complicated. So the officers are definitely in a tough spot.

We're trying to stay focused on the hope that the end of the pandemic is hopefully in sight. But I read something about Florida having more of the various COVID variant than other states, and we definitely have a tourist community where you’re going to see more activity. 

But we’re making contact with bars and restaurants and trying to get compliance with some of the basic fundamental things that are very easy for them to comply with, such as staff wearing masks, and trying to keep their capacities below the point where it’s so congested that social distancing isn't humanly possible. Being the “mask police” certainly isn’t a popular role.



Miami Beach Chief Rick Clements  

Wexler: How are you feeling about spring break, and how are your officers feeling about it? What's your strategy?

Chief Clements:  I echo what Dan said about the challenges of having to be “mask police.” We've issued over 22,000 masks, but you still don’t get compliance with wearing masks. The challenges that we have are shutting down a city at midnight that is usually open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’d guess that about half the populace that comes in every weekend are coming from other parts of the country, and they have the idea that Miami Beach is “the city that doesn’t sleep.” So it's difficult for us to sweep people off the street and back to their hotels or their Airbnbs or wherever they're staying.

But officers have adapted pretty well. They've been doing it since the latter part 2020, when Florida opened back up again. The challenges that spring break presents are that even more people are coming down here. 

Wexler:  I understand that the University of Florida and Florida State University, both in the northern part of Florida, have canceled their spring break recess, because they’re concerned about their students going to southern Florida and catching COVID. Have you noticed that having any effect?  

Chief Clements:   I don't know how much that's going to play into it, because a lot of the students are doing coursework from home virtually. So they can still come down here for a few days.  

Miami-Dade County is under an emergency order mandating a midnight curfew. They’re trying to discourage the herding mentality where people are going to the clubs and partying. But I think the county mayor is under a lot of pressure to lift those restrictions.

Wexler:  Have you had any progress on getting your cops vaccinated in Miami Beach?

Chief Clements:  We've been fortunate in that our Mount Sinai hospital has been phenomenal with being able to give our first responders leftover vaccines that haven’t been utilized at the end of the day.  

We did a survey about how many of our people are interested in taking the vaccine, and we only had about 20 to 25% of our department interested. We have a department size of 415, and I understand that those who want the vaccine have received it, so I think we’re roughly at about 100 officers who have taken the vaccine.



Daytona Beach Chief Chief Jakari Young

Wexler:   I understand your spring break overlaps with Bike Week, March 5-14, in which you expect about 300,000 people to attend. Why does that sound crazy to me?

Chief Young:  Yes, we are in the middle of the 80th anniversary of Bike Week, and your estimate is low. Right now I'm looking at approximately 600,000 in town on two wheels, and we could be up to 800,000 by Friday.

I think that the Bike Week crowd is really suffering from COVID-fatigue, and their mindset is, “If you're scared, stay home.” Of all the of all the bikers I've seen,  I could probably count on one hand how many are wearing masks. So we’ve definitely got our hands full.

The city put a 60% capacity cap on all the bars, but I don’t have the staffing to enforce that. So the onus is primarily on the bar owners to enforce that, and from what I'm seeing, good luck with that, because it's rocking and rolling here.

I’ve had to shift my focus to just making sure my cops have the appropriate amount of PPE to protect themselves, because these Bike Week folks are acting as if the pandemic never hit. It appears to me that they literally have no concern whatsoever. So I’m focused on keeping my cops safe.

One interesting thing that we're doing here is using our drone technology to oversee the Main Street area, which is the main draw in Daytona Beach. Everybody wants to come down to Main Street, so that's where you're going to get the huge influx of folks on top of each other.

Using the drone, we can identify any choke points in our traffic patterns, or if we see a large crowd gathering, that’s usually an indication of some type of altercation. So we can put that out over the radio, and the units can swoop in and quickly de-escalate and separate people.  We can use the drone because we don't have any facial recognition technology, we're not recording anything, and we're not focusing or targeting specific groups.

Wexler:  How about your cops in Daytona Beach, are they interested in getting vaccinated?

Chief Young:   I would say we're probably at about 30%, and that's because you still have some who are very leery of the vaccine. Our health care providers are offering our first responders extra vaccines.

I think the bigger issue is that the average age of my police officers is between 20 and 30. They're still in that age range when they feel like they're invincible. They feel that if they get the virus, they may feel bad for a couple days, but they’ll shake it off and come back to work.

I feel that the majority of the positive cases that we’ve experienced is because of activities that they're engaging in when they're off duty, because while they're on duty, especially down on Main Street, I'm mandating them to wear a mask and protect themselves. But when they're off duty, they want to go down and party, because they're in that age range.

So when the governor says he’ll provide the vaccine for officers who are 50 and older, in policing that's an endangered species. I may have 10 cops in that age range out of my 250. That “50 and over” doesn’t do much for me.


Fort Lauderdale Assistant Chief Frank Sousa

Wexler:  Tell us about Fort Lauderdale and the challenges you're facing there.

Assistant Chief Sousa:  Our bars are actually open until 4 a.m., which is providing a unique challenge, especially during spring break. Last week was our first week of spring break, and we had a large number of students from Michigan, Wisconsin, and other places descend upon our beach. Students tell us, “Hey, classes are online, so why not come down to the beach and enjoy the weather, and we can still be going to school?”

Wexler:  How are your cops feeling about this assignment? Are they concerned about their own health? Are they wearing masks when they’re out with all these students from other states?

Assistant Chief Sousa:  We expect all our officers to wear masks at all times, in the building or outside of the building. And much like Chief Clements indicated, our officers have become accustomed to wearing the masks, because prior to spring break, people were allowed to exercise on the beach, so it was an area that was descended upon. About 100 of our officers have had COVID.

We took a survey about the vaccine and were a little higher than Miami Beach. We were closer to the 40 to 45% range. But there is still that hesitancy among the workforce on taking a vaccine.

Our officers are mostly young. We don't have a large percentage of officers over the age of 50. But they’ve been able to obtain the vaccine through other means such as leftover vaccines. We still have a large number of officers who are waiting for the vaccine.

Wexler:  When is spring break considered over in Fort Lauderdale?

Assistant Chief Sousa:  For us it's in the middle of April, and we've augmented our staffing through then, and we're even having discussions that it may be going into May.  

Wexler:  Is there any concern in the larger Fort Lauderdale area that the students will increase the positive rate for full-time Fort Lauderdale residents?

Assistant Chief Sousa:  Yes, we've had a number of calls from our homeowners’ groups and civic associations voicing concerns over this. I do think the city management has done a good job, not only working with the police department but also the other departments such as code enforcement, so that we can work in tandem together to try our best to educate and inform and minimize the impact of any potential spread in our city. 


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.