April 21, 2020


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


In today’s Daily COVID-19 report, we have 3 items:

--A summary of a comprehensive report by the NYPD about many aspects of its COVID-19 response, including terrorism threats, drone threats, and racist propaganda associated with COVID-19.

--A brief interview with Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina, who recently learned that he is infected with the COVID-19 virus.

--An interview with Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of Police Scotland.


NYPD Report Details Terrorist and Other Threats

The NYPD generously sent us a copy of its “COVID-19 Law Enforcement Brief” to share with PERF members.  Click on this link to see the full report.

NYPD COVID-19 Snapshot

As of April 15, 2020

-- 6,052 uniformed officers (16.7% of the NYPD) were on sick report.

-- 3,417 uniformed officers tested positive for COVID-19.

-- 733 civilian employees tested positive for COVID-19.

-- 27 COVID-19 fatalities (6 uniform, 16 civilian and 5 auxiliary officers).

-- 1,307 uniformed officers returning full duty after COVID-19.

-- 143 civilian employees returning after COVID-19.



Terrorism & Disinformation

Ideologically-motivated actors have tried to exploit COVID-19 through their messaging and propaganda efforts in order to incite violence.

The NYPD Intelligence Bureau assesses that racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists, Salafi-jihadist extremists inspired by or linked to foreign terrorist organizations, and nation-state adversaries will continue to leverage public fears associated with the ongoing pandemic in extremist messaging and disinformation.

Hospitals are a top security concern, as extremists may seek to target such facilities to amplify their message.


Intentional Exposure

The NYPD has authorized its officers to summons or arrest individuals who claim to have COVID-19 and intentionally or negligently expose others to the virus.

If the target of exposure is a police officer, the available arrest charges include violating the health code, obstructing governmental administration (second degree), or, in cases of spitting, harassment (second degree). A summons may be issued in lieu of arrest if the officer is concerned about further exposure. Similarly, individuals intentionally exposing other members of the public to COVID-19 can be summonsed for a health code violation. Acts of intentional exposure have been categorized as terrorist crimes in certain jurisdictions across the United States, and the US Department of Justice has signaled a willingness to charge such incidents under existing terrorism statutes. The NYPD has not pursued such prosecution.


Drone Activity

The NYPD has observed a significant amount of drone activity in the vicinity of locations associated with the COVID-19 response, in particular Hart Island, where New York City is interring unclaimed bodies, and the USNS Comfort. Since April 7, the NYPD Intelligence Bureau has responded to nine such incidents. Where appropriate, the drone operators are summonsed and the vehicle is vouchered as evidence. NYPD is coordinating with neighboring law enforcement agencies to share information relating to drone incidents and to coordinate a response.


PPE-Related Scams

Scams involving personal protective equipment (PPE) are targeting hospitals, health care unions, and government agencies both in and outside the US.

Driven by the need to procure the unusually large amounts of PPE necessary to address the pandemic, buyers are engaging with new, unverified sellers, increasing their exposure to fraud.


Hate Crimes

While hate crimes in New York City declined in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of 2019, NYC is seeing an increase in hate and bias incidents--ranging from harassment to assault--specifically targeting individuals of Asian descent, reported in all 5 boroughs. Since March 7, the NYPD has received 11 COVID-19 related complaints, and 10 arrests have been made. One incident involved three teenage girls who attacked a 51-year-old woman with an umbrella while riding a bus in the Bronx. The woman sustained injuries to her face that required stitches. The teens were arrested and charged with assault as a hate crime. It is possible the number of such bias incidents is underreported.


Racist and Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremist Propaganda



Interview with Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina

Chuck Wexler: Jorge, how are you, and what symptoms have you had?

Chief Colina: On Thursday, I coughed a few times and left work a little early. By Thursday evening, I had a bit more of a cough and some stomach pain. The pain woke me up in the middle of the night. By Friday morning, I had a low-grade fever, stomach pain, and the cough. I didn’t go to work, and I called the fire chief to send someone over to give me an antibody test. It came back positive, and they swabbed me again to do an antigen test, which is much more accurate. Friday night I felt terrible. By mid-day Saturday I started to feel a little better. I forced myself out of bed and walked around a bit on my patio, which is what my doctor recommended. Since then I’ve been feeling better. I try to get some fresh air, walk, and exercise my lungs.

Wexler: Are you quarantining yourself?

Chief Colina:  Yes, I’m completely quarantined and will be for 14 days at a minimum.

Wexler: Have you delegated your work responsibilities to others?

Chief Colina:   I’m delegating some things to Ron Papier, my deputy chief. For example, he’s handling a budget meeting today. It’s stressful for me to not participate in that, but I’m tired and I know he can handle it.

Wexler:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Chief Colina:  I’ve heard from quite a few chiefs, including (Aurora, Illinois Police Chief) Kristen Ziman and (Detroit Police Chief) James Craig, who both tested positive as well. It’s very uplifting to hear from your peers and know that they’re rooting for you and praying for you.


Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone

PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler recently interviewed Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland, and how Police Scotland is adjusting to the crisis.

Police Scotland is the second largest police force in the UK, with 17,500 officers and 5,500 support staff. It was established in 2013 and is responsible for all policing and security across Scotland, covering over one-third of the UK land mass.

As of April 19, 8,187 people in Scotland have tested positive for COVID-19, and 903 have died.

Key Takeaways:

1.  Mutual Aid:  Even though the Irish Sea separates Scotland from Northern Ireland, the two countries’ police forces have signed a mutual aid agreement, so they can help each other with dispatch operations.

2.  Modernizing policing and the justice system:  The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing some necessary modernization to the criminal justice system in Scotland, such as obtaining witness statements and other types of evidence remotely.

And Chief Constable Livingstone believes that the value of some COVID-related changes in police culture and traditions, such as allowing officers to work remotely when it’s possible, may continue to be recognized after the COVID crisis is over.

3.  Changes in calls for serviceLike other countries, Scotland is experiencing a significant drop in crime due to COVID-19, but also a sharp increase in calls about people disobeying social distancing orders.

4.  Protecting vulnerable people against cybercrimePolice Scotland is concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing people with little experience with computers to learn how to go online, but because of their inexperience, they are especially vulnerable to cyber-criminals. 

Following is the interview with Chief Constable Livingstone:

Wexler:  Iain, what is your approach to protecting Scotland against COVID?

Chief Constable Livingstone:   The only effective intervention at the moment is social distancing. Without a vaccine or a robust testing mechanism, the only way to slow the spread is social distancing. And the only way to achieve that is through voluntary citizen participation or policing. The curfew and lockdown in the UK have a legal framework and sanctions behind it.

Enforcement is a last resort. We’re relying on traditional engagement with our communities, going back to Sir Robert Peel’s principles. We ask officers to engage, explain, encourage, and then, if need be, you enforce. We only look to enforce if there is a willful disregard to comply.

Say there’s a group of kids having a drinking party at a house. We tell them they’re in breach of the regulations, tell them to go home, and they apologize and leave. In that case, we’d leave them with a warning. We have the enforcement power, but we’re relying on policing by consent.

So police are a key contributor, but this is a public health issue. To me, this underlines how policing is so much more than enforcement. I spent most of my career as a detective, and law enforcement is at the heart of what we do. The policing mandate speaks to community cohesion, fairness, and justice, but policing almost has a broader public health responsibility as well, and that’s certainly what we’re seeing at the moment.

Wexler:  Have you seen changes in calls for service and crime?

Chief Constable Livingstone:   The volume of calls taken is down about 10%. On any one day, we receive about 7,000 calls. The volume is slightly lower, but the nature of them is very different.

Our crime reports are down significantly. But this time last year, we would receive maybe have 250 public nuisance calls per day. Now we’re getting about 1,000 per day for things like breach of curfew.

Calls for crime are down. For example, we typically take over 300 calls per day for theft, which includes burglary and robbery. But this week, we’ve taken 130. We haven’t seen any change in calls about commercial burglary or domestic burglary. Street robberies are significantly down. Generally, crime is down about 30%.

We have been increasing our public messaging about cyber security. There are a number of late adopters of digital technology who are going online now.  Our assessment is that there’s an increased vulnerability there, so we’re pushing education and prevention. We’re messaging specific advice on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. That includes fundamentals about password protection and not responding to any unsolicited contacts. We tell people that if they have any concerns, they should contact the police for advice.

Coordination with the Police Service of Northern Ireland

Police Scotland just signed a memorandum of understanding with the Police Service of Northern Ireland to provide mutual support. If either agency has a surge in emergency calls, the other agency would pick up some of the overflow. So the caller gets a prompt response and we’re not leaving people unanswered.

There’s a cultural link between Northern Ireland and Scotland, so people would still get that level of comfort and reassurance. And we have close working ties with that agency.

Minimizing the Risk to Officers

We have operational guidance to encourage social distancing and maintain that two-meter gap. But we know that officers all over the world sometimes have to go in and have a closer engagement. As John Timoney used to say, “Policing is a contact sport.”

To mitigate that, we’ve increased our personal protective equipment. Almost 2,000 of our 17,500 officers are trained with specific PPE. That includes elbow-length gloves, properly fitted masks, and protective suits.

If there is any potential COVID element to any call, we try to deploy those officers. They are in our operational support units, which are specifically trained on search and public order. Those officers have received additional training and are being dispatched to any call that we identify as having a COVID-related factor.

COVID Is Creating Opportunities to Modernize the Justice System and Police Traditions

Policing in Scotland is naturally conservative. We value our traditions and we value our history. That’s a great strength, but at times it means that we’re not dynamic enough.

We’ve had about a half-dozen murders during this period, and there’s a difficulty in responding to those, in protecting against COVID while handling the body recovery, forensic capture, scene protection, and evidence gathering.  So we’ve been creative in how we’ve gathered evidence, using methods like letter drops as opposed to face-to-face interactions, and doing interviews by telephone.

Our courts have introduced legislation to allow the use of digital evidence, so people can submit evidence from afar.

So we’ve sort of been stuck in a dated model of criminal justice for a while, but COVID has forced us to start using new technologies during this emergency situation. We can keep those changes as we go forward, to make a more efficient and fair system.

Traditionally, we all start very early in the morning and physically come together as a command team, asking people to travel great distances so we’re all in the same office.

I think some of the flexible working and working from home using technology recognizes people’s well-being while still delivering public value.

There are even some changes to our infrastructure elements. We had almost 30 custody centers spread across the whole of Scotland, and we’ve slashed that down to 15 because of COVID. We may have to reopen some other custody centers going forward, but we may not.

We might see greater efficiencies, we might see greater flexibility in our criminal justice system, and we might see more flexibility in our own working practices that enhances the well-being of our officers and staff. 

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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