April 23, 2020


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


For today’s COVID-19 Report, PERF asked police chiefs and others to tell us what they are doing to alleviate their employees’ anxiety about COVID-related issues, and to promote their well-being and mental health.


Key Takeaways

Realize that officers and other employees have anxieties about how COVID may affect their families, and work to reassure them. COVID is not like other sources of stress for police officers. COVID is not something that happens on one day; it has been continuing for months, with no clear end in sight. It affects everyone in the department. It’s happening worldwide. And it directly affects officers’ families, because there is a risk that officers may become infected on the job and bring the virus into their homes.

Constant communications are essential to identifying what employees need.  Chiefs speak about the need to “over-communicate,” meaning they communicate with their employees more often, and in more formats, than would normally seem necessary.

Two-way communications are essential.  Chiefs are finding ways to hold question-and-answer sessions with employees, even in the largest departments.  And many are creating mechanisms for officers to ask questions anonymously, if they wish.

Use videos and conference calls, not just email.  Email is often the most efficient way to communicate, but video and audio conference calls help to maintain some semblance of a “personal touch” that is otherwise lacking at a time of social distancing, which can help to relieve officers’ concerns.

Many chiefs are also sending brief video messages to all employees multiple times per week.

Provide counseling and other direct support to employees – and to family members.   Departments are reporting high levels of peer counseling sessions and other assistance.

And some departments are creating mechanisms that allow employees’ family members to contact the department directly to request assistance.

Some departments are seeing higher levels of joint counseling with employees and their spouses.

Think about coming issues that will cause anxiety, such as budget cuts.  The next big issue, already appearing in some cities, is the inevitable budget cuts to police agencies that will result from the slowdown of the economy. Police employees generally have greater job security than many other workers, but funding will be tight, and many police employees have spouses who are being laid off. This increases the stress on officers.


Clearwater, FL Chief Dan Slaughter:

Family Members Can Bring Concerns to Me Through our Family Support Liaison

Last April, when we had the PERF mental health symposium about preventing officer suicides, one of the takeaways I took from that was making sure that we really had a full engagement with officers’ families.

So after that meeting, we created a program called the Family Support Liaison, which is basically a consortium of spouses and family members of our officers.

We’re glad to have that tool available now. We know that officers tend to deal with their stress at home. They come to work, they get the job done, but some of the stresses manifest in their home life. So having that engagement with the families has been really key for us. 

It’s not just one-way messaging to the officers and hoping the message gets to the family. It’s about working through this liaison to make sure that we’re getting family members’ questions answered.

So if family members have questions about benefits, or protective equipment, or how we’re handling exposures, they’re allowed to come directly to me through the family liaison, as opposed to having to go through their family members.

I think this has helped alleviate some of the stress from their perspective.

We’ve also developed a partnership with a local provider, Tampa Bay Psychology Associates, and they developed a “Stay Grounded” pamphlet that provides ideas on healthy coping mechanisms, healthy ways to interact with your family, and healthy ways to deal with communication and work through this pandemic.

I think the COVID threat is rough on our officers, because they’re used to identifying a problem, attacking the problem, fixing the problem, and moving on to the next one. COVID isn’t that simple because it’s affecting the whole world.

In the past, we used email to communicate a lot of information to our staff, but with COVID we’re trying to do more video conferencing and conference phone calls

Even when face-to-face communications or audio communications are done electronically, it’s better than an email for making sure we don’t lose that social connection to our employees, getting feedback to make sure their questions are being answered, and finding out how they’re doing and if they’re getting fatigued.


Aurora, IL Chief Kristen Ziman:

We’ve Created Systems for Two-Way Communications with Officers

The COVID crisis happened about the time of the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting we had on February 15, 2019, with five people killed and five officers shot. Following that incident, we had bolstered our mental health programs and peer mentoring. We have an app where officers can click a button on their phone and be in touch with a mental health professional immediately, and anonymously if they so choose.  And they can choose a police officer from another police department.

We have worked to “over-communicate” on this, to make sure that everyone is receiving the messages they need to hear. Even when I was down with COVID and was quarantined, I was putting out videos and making sure people had the connectivity they needed. It was also about giving them “permission” to be a little fearful during this time.

We all have our experience in dealing with critical incidents – a shooting, even a mass shooting, a natural disaster, these things we know how to handle. But throw us into the middle of a pandemic, and we were making it up as we went along. So one of the first things I communicated was that this is brand new, and I’m not exactly sure how it will play out, and we’re going to bend, but we’re not going to break. 

And it’s about two-way communication, not just notifications. Instead of myself and the command staff just talking at them, we developed a platform where they could write in anonymously and tell us about their concerns or their criticisms. And they would say, “Have you thought about doing this? From my perspective, I would like to see this.” 

And every day I would read those suggestions, and I would include these ideas in a new operations plan, or send a video to say, “OK, here are the ideas that came in today. Here are some of your concerns, and here’s what we’re doing about them.”

And in cases where we can’t do anything, we acknowledge them nonetheless.


Irving, TX Chief Jeff Spivey

The Next Source of Anxiety for Officers Is How COVID Will Reduce Funding for the Police

Dallas County is one of the hardest-hit areas in Texas, with well over 2,000 COVID cases. We add 100 to 120 cases a day to those numbers. We’re working our way through four weeks of the shelter-in-place order. We’ve been very fortunate that we have not yet had any employee test positive.

One of the challenges that has caused some stress for our employees is that there seems to be a divide between employees who think COVID is a a big deal, and employees who think that it’s being overblown and sensationalized by the media.  

I’m trying to manage both of those groups, and often they’re on the same shift and they work together. This has truly been a challenge.

Another challenge is what COVID will do to our city budget. I’ve had to come up with $1.5 million in cuts to this year’s budget, and we haven’t even begun to discuss what those cuts will look like for fiscal year 2021. There’s a memo that circulated throughout the city today on employee furloughs.  Fortunately, that’s not going to impact the Police Department, but I know it will cause more anxiety for our employees when they start seeing other city workers furloughed, especially among those who already have spouses who have lost their jobs. Managing this aspect of the crisis will be our next challenge.


Tempe, AZ Chief Sylvia Moir:

We’re Providing Officers with Resources On Psychological, Physical, Emotional, Financial, and Other Issues

We were early adopters in identifying the need to build mindfulness and resilience into how we approach policing. We had a foundation for how to engage with our folks, and to build their resilience and their adaptation to the stress that is before them. So the COVID crisis wasn’t totally abnormal.

We started with mindfulness and meditation. We have 3 apps that our folks have access to, and every sworn officer in the Tempe Police Department has a department-issued iPhone to use the app. We also have yoga instructors for first responders. So our officers understood how to adapt to stress.

We then opened up a human performance team to address everything on the continuum that affects human beings, and particularly those in policing. We have resources for our folks on spiritual, psychological, physical, nutrition, emotional, financial support, and health issues.

For example, the COVID pandemic caused stress regarding remote work. How would employees working remotely have the technology and the connectedness to maintain the meaningfulness of their work? We address that by having robust technology, and ensuring that we had a tempo of video conferences that continue to connect our folks with each other.

The surprising thing has been the effects on the families. And that family stress comes back to our employees and comes back to the organization.


Dr. Denise Jablonski-Kaye – Police Psychologist, Los Angeles Police Department:

We’re Seeing More Couples Requesting Counseling

COVID-19 is a different animal. It’s not about a crime or a suspect. It’s something that we can’t see, we can’t touch. And so I think initially it was a little difficult for people to fully grasp the magnitude of this, the impact it was going to have, and why they should even care.

But we have to date 57 positive cases in the department. We had a detective who was sick and who unfortunately lost his wife on Easter Sunday. And that kind of jarred the department. I think a lot of people were thinking that COVID really wasn’t going to affect us and that somehow we were going to be immune. I think that got everybody’s attention.

The LAPD puts out a briefing twice daily on the number of positive cases, the number of tests that are pending, and the number of people who are currently being quarantined.  And it then identifies them by their work location. Some locations have higher numbers and others don’t any cases.

That kind of constant communication, I think, is really important to the employees. And the chief has been putting out video messages to all employees.

Los Angeles has been in a “Safer at Home” position since March 19, and when that happened, schools closed simultaneously and there was a big scramble about what employees with children were going to do in order to come to work. The chief gave employees time to figure that out, and that was very helpful.      

We have 16 psychologists in LAPD’s Behavioral Science Services section.  We quickly shifted to providing Telehealth sessions, and our folks are loving it. We’ve increased the number of sessions that we are able to provide.

We’re seeing a lot more couples asking for counseling, probably because people are at home more. There’s no place to go and nothing to do, so couples are dealing with some of their issues.

The Department has also developed a what we call a Rest and Recovery area at the Academy. Officers who are tired because of a long shift, and who don’t want to go home because they don’t want to bring the potential exposure into their home, they can shower, get a haircut, and sleep at the Academy. There’s food there as well. It’s quiet, kind of away from things, and they feel safe.

We also have a hotel downtown, where officers who are quarantined can stay for two weeks while they quarantine and not bring the exposure home.

We’re basically learning on the fly like everybody else, and we’re trying to respond as quickly as possible, because we learned that if it takes too many days for us to get information out to the troops, it becomes obsolete.


NYPD Deputy Commissioner Bob Ganley:

We Provide Housing for Officers Who Are Concerned About Infecting Vulnerable Family Members

Like other agencies, we have a program for lodging members of the service who are not symptomatic. They don’t believe they have the COVID, but as a precaution, they’re afraid to bring it home to their elderly parents or to someone who may have an underlying condition. We are putting them up in certain hotels throughout the city.

We have reasonable accommodation provisions for people who need that, and we have many civilian employees who are working from home.

I think we’re going to face some new challenges when this calms down.


NYPD Deputy Inspector Ken Quick:  

Our Commissioner Has Weekly Q-and-A Sessions For All Members, via Social Media Platforms

Commissioner Dermot Shea is doing a weekly question-and-answer session where he addresses officers personally online through different platforms – Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s been very well received by the members.  

In an agency with more than 50,000 employees, people normally don’t get an opportunity to have direct interactions with the police commissioner. But this is really a great opportunity for him to get information directly to the employees, straight from him, and also to get some of their questions. 

You have to be willing to deal with questions on the fly, and sometimes you just have to say, “Listen, we’re still trying to figure that out, but rest assured we have your safety in mind and the well-being of your families, and we’re doing the best we can.”


Miami, FL Deputy Chief Ron Papier:

Many Officers Have Anxiety, So We Work Hard To Contact Them and Give Them What They Need

Most of the questions and  concerns being brought to our peer support people have been about anxiety.

We’ve had over 350 people quarantined at home, and we have a team of people who call them up every day to make sure they’re OK and ask if they need anything.

We also have a hotel where they can go if they can’t isolate at home.

We get daily information from the Department of Health on locations where people have tested positive for COVID, and we’re communicating that out to the officers. So when officers are dispatched to that location, they use extra precautions with their PPE gear.  We’re also going back to see if any officer in the last week went to a call where someone was positive, and we’re getting them tested as well.

We’re letting everybody know where they can get PPE gear. There’s no shortage of it, and we have a location where they can go pick it up 24 hours a day.

The chief has been putting out videos, messages, answering all kinds of questions. Every time we’ve had an employee test positive, he’s been putting that information out. We have a team of people calling and doing the backtrack work to see who the COVID-positive person came in contact with, so we can let everyone know as soon as possible.

Our department psychologist is doing virtual appointments.

Note: Miami Chief Jorge Colina tested positive for COVID-19 and spoke with PERF about his experience for Tuesday’s Daily Report.


Boston Sergeant Mark Freire, Commander of the Peer Support Unit:

Everything  We Offer to Our Police Officers, We Also Offer to Family Members

We have weekly Zoom meetings between our peer support officers and our clinical staff. We have a lot of one-on-one phone contacts where trained peer support personnel help those who may be affected in any way. We have a lot of clinical sessions through Telehealth.

We’re providing informative resources for our personnel, like how officers and their families can assist their children with proper coping mechanisms, how to properly approach the complexities of having elderly parents, etc.

We have a hotel that is housing anyone who tested positive and needs to be quarantined. We’re also working with Northeastern University, which supplied dormitory rooms for officers who are concerned that they might bring the virus home.

We’re also going to try to reach every member of the Department with a crisis management debriefing. These briefings alleviate a lot of fears. They knock down rumors and false information that may be out there.

Everything we offer to our police officers, we also offer to their immediate family members. They can have any service that we provide to the officers.

We just had our first fatality with COVID a few days ago, and one of the concerns is that we can’t have funerals where the officer’s friends and coworkers can give them the send-off they deserve. This is something we’ve never seen before, and it’s a strong concern.


Fairfax County, VA Chief Ed Roessler:

Find Out What Your Officers Are Worried About, And Look for Ways to Resolve the Issues

When I look back at all the changes we’ve made in the policing profession, it includes a new emphasis on the sanctity of life, on the “co-production” of policing with employee groups and community members, on transparency in our leadership, and taking care of our police family.

So for example, when the Governor’s executive order first came out, it had a rule about not having more than 10 people in a gym. I didn’t want my officers out there regulating this, tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, you’re #11, you have to leave.”  So we took a step back and realized that there’s a business license to be regulated here, so let’s work the code enforcement team and prosecutors and courts and see whether we can revoke a gym’s license if they don’t voluntarily comply.

This goes to the wellness of the officers, because they had anxiety about whether the chief was going to make them go enforce regulations at restaurants, parks, and gyms.  That’s not happening. There’s another way to do that business, and they feel better.

Another strategy we’ve used is to have our SWAT officers handle calls about violent crimes, because they’re at a higher level with Personal Protective Equipment, so the patrol officers feel protected. And our Crisis Intervention Team-trained officers have been deployed to handle mental health incidents, because they’re at a higher training level. 


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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