For today’s Daily COVID-19 Report, three California police executives discussed how their agencies have responded to the recent increase in COVID cases. California saw a wave of cases during the summer, and cases have been spiking since the beginning of November.

Source: New York Times

Long Beach Chief Robert Luna

When this hit us in March, we all adjusted. We listened to what other agencies were doing and learned from their successes and failures.  Then we got to the George Floyd protests, and between the issues of public trust, police reform, and defunding, COVID kind of went to the back of the mental file. Here in Long Beach, it wasn’t until the beginning of November that we started to hear reports of this resurgence.

The positive cases within my police department went up drastically. Before November, we were doing really well and only had about 40 total cases in a department of about 1,200 sworn and civilian. Between November 1 and December 8, we’ve had 45 new cases. That is an attention-getter. Thank God I haven’t had anybody in the ICU. I call every employee who tests positive, and I hear everything from “no symptoms” to “mild symptoms” to “significant symptoms.”

Operational Changes

We’re holding a lot of our roll calls outside, and we’re staggering the times when people are coming in. We considered a move to one-man cars, but we didn’t have enough cars.

We’ve put together our own contact tracing team with one sergeant and five detectives. We’re getting briefings from them twice a week on any patterns, trends, or hotspots that they’re seeing. For example, we identified an issue of employees doing a good job of wearing face coverings when in contact with the public, but they weren’t wearing the masks in break rooms when they might be having a meal. So we’re addressing that issue by trying to keep them apart while they’re inside.

We’re finding that over one-third of our officers with COVID are getting it from family members or another off-duty source. But a lot of our cases are employee-to-employee transmission.

We’re dispersing as many of our employees as we can. We have 14 different facilities. We studied where we had the highest density of employees and started there, trying to thin them out. We’re able to use city libraries and other city facilities that have been vacated by city employees. But our challenge is getting people laptops they can use to work from those facilities or at home.

Enforcing Public Health Orders

The City of Long Beach has its own health department, although we are part of Los Angeles County. The cases in Los Angeles County have exploded. There’s a lot of political rhetoric between the governor, the mayors, and county officials about taking a strong stance on enforcement, including businesses that are not complying, public face mask enforcement, and limiting the size of gatherings. My biggest challenge as a police chief has been trying to stay out of the enforcement business as much as I can. I’m not saying I won’t enforce, but the first line of defense has to be education, reinforcement of the health order, and advising. Then, as a last line of defense, enforcement if necessary.

There has been some controversy and disagreement among our elected officials about the police department’s role.  I’m happy to say that so far, our city has done a good job of making sure that our enforcement has been administrative citations given by a code enforcement task force. Since this began, police have only given out a handful of citations, and they were a last resort. But the politics and pressure are a constant battle.

We’re communicating a lot with fellow chiefs in Los Angeles County to avoid getting ahead of each other. Because the minute one chief makes an announcement about enforcement, it puts the rest of us in a difficult situation.

Locally, some sheriffs have come out aggressively against the health orders. That has caused some drama, and even our own officers are asking why I don’t come out as a chief of police and say what those sheriffs have said. We need to have constant conversations with our employees, both about keeping them safe and healthy and about any enforcement, because they don’t want to do enforcement.


According to our health director, vaccinations could start as early as late January. We’re in category 1b. Those details and logistics are still being worked out.

I had an internal town hall meeting with my employees about COVID and other current issues. One of the primary questions that came up was whether I was going to order them to take the vaccine. To be honest, that threw me off. I thought everybody would want this, because nobody would want to get sick. It appears that some people are going to dig in their heels and say, “You can’t force me to do this.”

The fire chief and I are going to meet with the HR director to put together a strategy to deal with those who want it and those who are refusing to accept it.

I told my employees that when this COVID vaccine becomes available, I will be taking it.

My union president isn’t forming an opinion yet, but I know personally he wants to figure out a way for most employees to take it. But he’s also worried about what my next steps may be. Are we going to make employees who don’t take it sign a waiver? Because if you get COVID, the city covers you for a certain amount of time and pays for a hotel. Should the city continue that if you’re unwilling to vaccinate yourself? Those are all very legitimate HR questions that need to be answered.

Richmond Chief Bisa French

I think we’re more prepared now than we were in March, because we know more about how the virus works. Our county, along with several other Bay Area counties, did not want to wait for the state health order to go into effect. This past Sunday at 10:00 p.m., our county put a more stringent health order into effect. We are on lockdown, as we were when the pandemic started in March. Nobody is supposed to leave their house except for essential purposes. So we’re kind of going back to where we were in March.

Operational Changes

We had a sergeant pass away from COVID in August, and that really had a significant impact on our department. We’re continuing to make sure that we’re protecting our officers as much as possible.

Internally, we’ve kept things in place since March. For example, we split our investigations unit into Team A and Team B. One week, Team A comes into the office to work and Team B works from home. Then they flip the next week.  That way, we won’t have the entire investigations unit come down with the virus.  And if a patrol team goes down, we have a contingent of officers to go fill the patrol spots.

For our professional staff, everyone who can work from home has been doing so. We provided laptops and the other equipment for them to do their jobs from home. Obviously not everybody can do that; we need to have people here processing property and some records staff.

Our lobby is shut down. People can still come to get police reports, but they have to use a phone outside. And we’re looking at a system that will let us email reports to people, so they don’t have to come to the police department at all. We’ve really limited the number of people we’re bringing into the department, because we want to limit the exposure of both our community and our officers.

For patrol, we’re limiting the calls our officers are going to. We have online reporting that our dispatchers refer people to. We’ve come up with an easy way to get them the link to make an online report. If they’re unable to report online, we have an officer or cadet call them.


We had a very violent summer. At this point in the year, we’re only one homicide above where we were last year, with 18 compared to 17 last year. But there’s a significant increase in shootings. We had 30-something people shot last year, and we’re in the 90s this year. We’re seeing a large increase in violent crime, and we had to put an extra unit out to focus on intelligence-led policing and the people involved in the shootings. That has been effective in reducing the number of homicides we’ve seen since the summer.

I think there are a number of reasons for the increase in violence. People are desperate right now. A lot of people have lost their jobs, lost hope, and have no money coming in. We’re seeing a lot of robberies and those types of crimes.

The weather has had a significant impact. We’ve had very little rain this season. The weather has been good, so there are more people out in the streets.

We’ve seen a lot more gang activity, especially involving young people who aren’t in school right now and have time on their hands to be out and engaging with people they shouldn’t be engaging with.


It’s unfortunate that politics have played a big role in how everybody has responded to the coronavirus, and it was exacerbated by the election. It has become a political issue, as opposed to the health issue that it is.

Right now we have a survey out to our staff about whether they will take the vaccination. We haven’t taken a stance as a city about whether it will be mandated. Those are conversations we’ll have with our HR department to see how the city will move forward. Personally, I am for the vaccination and believe we should vaccinate. My POA president has not taken a stance on it yet.

We’re hearing from our health department that hospital staffers will be vaccinated first, then we might have the opportunity early next year as first responders.

Santa Barbara Captain Marylinda Arroyo

Santa Barbara is a tourist community. Early on, our downtown organization and economic development manager spearheaded the movement to promote outdoor dining and parklets [temporary gathering spaces in public streets for outdoor restaurant service, etc.].  They popped up within 3 or 4 weeks, and maintained a certain level of tourism here.


We became a destination for folks coming from Los Angeles and other places. I’m very glad our restaurants and other small businesses have been able to survive, but at the same time it caused a significant strain on the police department in the middle of the protests and defunding. It definitely put us in a predicament about which laws were being enforced against which people and in which areas.

We also have a large transient population. Early on, we were told not to disturb homeless camps or move them, because the health department needed to do contact tracing. That was an invitation for more people to come, so it became a political issue. We have tried to get code enforcement and environmental services to assist us. When homeless persons are in the highly populated tourist areas, we get pressure to take enforcement actions. That becomes very difficult.

Operational Changes

We email PDF documents to people who need police reports, and they can pay for them online or through other means.  We’ve staggered our officer briefings and hold them outside.

Early on, our EMS director (who is a fire battalion chief and paramedic), our city doctor (who is an ER doctor with a master’s degree in public health), and I became the COVID team for the city, particularly as it relates to public safety. We produced a guide about what our officers can expect, what our special orders are, what to expect if you get exposed, our plan to get people tested, how long people can expect to be out, and how officers should isolate and quarantine.

Our chief issued an order early on mandating that masks be worn and that we do self-checks at the door. At first we couldn’t get laptops and thermometers, and PPE was also challenging.

Most of our investigators were telecommuting, because they already had laptops at their desks. They would come in at staggered times or as needed.

The timing and cost of testing was difficult. Our risk management people wanted PCR tests because that was the level for OSHA. We wanted rapid tests and PCR tests, because the rapid tests could stop the domino effects of cross-contamination. So we’ve basically paid for it out of our own budget, to get people both forms of testing.

We also dealt with budget cuts. We had to cut 5% out of our budget immediately, so we had to lay off all our part-time employees. That included all our cadets who were helping clean cars. That’s landed on us, to the point where I have three sergeants who bring in a power washer from home to chip in and clean our units.  It’s all hands on deck, and everybody is a team player and working as hard as we can.


A limited amount of the vaccine will be coming into our county at staggered times. We are at the bottom of Tier 1 to the beginning of Tier 2. The bottom of Tier 1 is public safety who are EMS-certified or otherwise giving medical care that could expose them to airborne pathogens, such as administering CPR or Narcan. All our sworn police officers carry Narcan, so they will all be part of the bottom of Tier 1.

I have been told to plan for the bottom of Tier 1 to be vaccinated sometime at the end of March, or April at the latest. But they’re hoping it’ll be more like February.

I think most people are looking at it like they do the hepatitis vaccine. Our city offers both hepatitis A and B vaccines, and every year all employees, particularly sworn officers, have to certify whether they will take the vaccine, and that they understand the risk if they won’t. We strongly suggest they take it, but we don’t mandate it. At this point, I think the COVID vaccine will be up to every individual.


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.