April 20, 2020


PERF’s COVID-19 coronavirus resources, including past editions of the Daily COVID-19 Report, are available at https://www.policeforum.org/coronavirus.


What California, Oregon, and Washington State Are Thinking about Reopening

Several groups of states are making plans to coordinate as they ease some of the restrictions they put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

--In the Northeast, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are working together;

--In the Midwest, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin are coordinating; and

--On the West Coast, California, Oregon, and Washington are discussing testing, contact tracing, and other strategies for reopening.

For this issue of Daily COVID-19 Report, PERF spoke with police executives from the three West Coast states about how they’re preparing for the potential easing of restrictions in their region.


4 Takeaways

1.  Beware the Two-Humped Camel:  Police chiefs are concerned that if restrictions on businesses and stay-at-home orders are relaxed too soon, COVID-19 infections may surge back.

And if restrictions must then be reinstated, chiefs are afraid that the high rates of voluntary compliance we have enjoyed so far might not occur a second time around.  Social distancing enforcement could become much more difficult.

2.  Testing is essential:  Wider testing for COVID infections, as well as antibody testing to identify people who have been exposed to the virus, are critically important as governors make decisions about when and where to relax restrictions. 

3.  Decisions about how to reopen gradually will be difficult:  There is a broad consensus that the process of reopening businesses and relaxing stay-at-home orders should be incremental and carefully thought out. One consideration is that limited actions may have unintended consequences.

For example, if a city begins by reopening certain parks (but not other public facilities or businesses), people may swarm the parks, increasing risks of infection.  And reopening a city could increase infections among police officers, because the officers’ family members, like everyone else, might be more likely to become infected.

4.  Issues will remain after reopening:  The COVID-19 crisis has put a crimp in community policing, because police departments haven’t been able to hold meetings with community groups. Restoring these connections will take effort. 


Bellevue, WA Chief Steve Mylett:

If We Lift Restrictions Too Soon and Have to Reimpose Them, I’m Afraid That’s When We’ll See Civil Unrest

We’re waiting for the governor to tell us on May 4th what restrictions he is going to be lifting, if any. It seems like our curve is flattened and, for the most part, we’ve gotten compliance from the community in Bellevue. But we’re getting some beautiful weather up here and I’m getting the sense that people are very anxious to get out.

My primary concern, even when the restrictions are lifted or softened, is the safety of my employees and the community, because the virus is still out there. Our department has been very fortunate. We haven’t had a positive case, and I think that’s because of the approaches that we’ve taken as a department and a city. But if we rush back to normal too quickly, then I think this thing could spike back up again. The worst thing I think can happen is for any community to lift restrictions prematurely, only to have to go back and reimplement the restrictions. Because at that point I think we would start seeing more pushback and civil unrest.

I think when I start seeing many fewer cases in our hospitals and the death count eliminated, then I’ll probably start having more confidence we can go back to normal. Like every police department, we’re open for business. But I’m not anticipating going back to normal operations anytime soon, because this virus is still out there and I’m not sure when I’ll feel comfortable returning to normal operations.


Vancouver, WA Chief James McElvain:

I’m Looking Forward to a Return to In-Person Community Policing

As Steve (Mylett) said, we’re waiting to hear from the governor on May 4th, and I hope he gives us direction sooner than that. Our city is already making plans to try to open up operations on May 5th. While we’ll be in a new norm, we anticipate that we’ll somewhat be able to go back to regular services. I think it will look different, but we’d at least like to provide access to people who want to come into our precincts.

From the beginning, as Vancouver started to pull back from in-person interactions with the community, one of the first things I thought is that this really changes our relationship with the community. And I encourage our officers to actually go meet people, but it seems like today’s generation is more technology-driven. I fear that, as we continue with this physical distancing, we may lose that personal relationship with the community. When it is safe, I hope we all encourage our folks to go back and have that physical contact with the people we serve.


Seattle Assistant Chief Adrian Diaz:

Antibody Testing Will Be Important

We were one of the first areas to get hit with this. We had 262 people in quarantine at one time, and now we’re almost back to full staffing. We had seven test positive for COVID. One of our biggest concerns is a second wave.

We were one of the first areas to set up a COVID testing site for first responders. We developed a partnership with a lab to test someone within 48 hours and get the results back quickly.

We’re in communication with our medical staff to potentially transition to an antibody test in about a month, when those become more readily available. Part of that is to see how much of our staff we might lose if this does come back in November or December.


Portland, OR Chief Jami Resch

Our Calls for Service Are Almost Back to Normal, Which Makes Me Worry that People Aren’t Staying Home

What I’m most concerned about is if we start to go back to normal operations, see a surge in cases, and then have another order come down to send people back home to self-quarantine situation. That would be really difficult for the Police Bureau to enforce.

As of this morning, our calls for service are almost back up to normal. That has me concerned that people are not staying home as much as they were before.

I think at the Portland Police Bureau we’ll probably see officers directed to wear their personal protective equipment for longer than the public has to wear protection, just to protect our officers. If there’s another surge, I cannot lose a significant number of officers and maintain my core services.


Chula Vista, CA Chief Roxanna Kennedy:

I See an Edginess in People, So We Must Be Careful

I watch my officers walk down the hallway, and when someone comes in the opposite direction, people move to the side of the hallway. If someone sneezes, you can see people getting nervous. So it’s going to be interesting to watch as we begin reopening.

My concern is maintaining the relationships that we’ve built in the community, which have really been our success. Now there’s a distance, which is going to be challenging for those of us in law enforcement.

I believe we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to be careful and cautious. People are getting very edgy. I even notice it with my staff in the office, and I think it’s going to change how we do business for a long time.

Our governor put out a list of 6 different goals that we’d need to be able to meet in order to go back to normal operations. But those are still vague, and I think the challenge is that nobody really knows where we need to be to be in a safe situation.


Fremont, CA Capt. John Harnett

We Must Make Sure This Isn’t a “Two-Humped Camel”

We’ve established an advanced planning working group with representatives from different city departments to talk over the issues as we move forward. We’re focused on what we’re calling the “4 P’s”: Personnel, physical infrastructure, permanent changes to operations, and preparing for the next wave.

Personnel is about the wellness of our employees, and how we can take advantage of some of the new technologies, like Zoom meetings, to provide our employees some flexibility.

Physical infrastructure is about how we limit outside visitors and maintain our distancing.

Permanent changes to operations is about conducting an after-action report and identifying areas where we can improve.

Preparing for the next wave is about getting our supply chain ready to go and making sure we have protocols in place to ensure employee safety and organizational resiliency as we move forward.

I think we need to wait and see. We need to take our time to make sure this isn’t a “two-humped camel” as opposed to a slide. Because the last thing we need is to open up faster than we should, then suddenly find ourselves back at square one.

I think regional messaging is going to be really important for us. We need to come together as a region to make sure we have a consistent message based on the facts at hand, rather than one agency moving ahead of another.


San Diego Chief David Nisleit:

If We Relax Rules in Certain Locations, I’m Afraid People Will Swarm Those Locations

There’s a huge concern that we basically release the stay-at-home order, then have to tighten it back up. That would be very, very difficult, especially as our weather starts to warm up and it gets harder to keep everybody inside.

If we relax these stay-at-home orders, our officers’ families are going to be going out in public. So the risk to our officers won’t only be when they’re working, but also when they’re at home.

I’m concerned that when we relax this with a phased-in approach, people are going to swarm. If we just open neighborhood parks, people are going to swarm these parks, and enforcing social distancing is going to be extremely difficult.

We also have to worry about the border here in San Diego, and I know our neighbors to the south, especially Tijuana, are 4 to 6 weeks behind us. There’s quite a bit of international travel back and forth, and I’m concerned about how that will impact our region.


LAPD Deputy Chief Dominic Choi:

We Need More Testing to Make Sure When Deaths and Infections Seem to Decline

We talk daily with the mayor’s office, the fire department, and our emergency manager, and our biggest concern is about opening too fast.

I don’t think there’s one determining factor when we think about easing restrictions. The number of deaths needs to start to decrease. The number of positive tests needs to decrease, with enough testing available for everybody. And then if we get this antibody testing out there, we may see that a significant portion of the population has been exposed and does have antibodies. But I think we have to get a level of confidence that the public and our first responders can safely interact with each other. As that level of confidence increases, I think we will relax these restrictions, but I don’t know the timeline for that. 


Mental Health Calls During COVID-19

To learn more about how mental health calls have changed during the pandemic, PERF is asking members to please click on this link and complete a brief questionnaire. We may share your responses in an upcoming edition of our PERF Daily COVID-19 Report.


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.

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