For today’s report, PERF spoke with three police chiefs from the Pacific Northwest: Seattle, WA Chief Adrian Diaz; Vancouver, WA Chief James McElvain; and Portland, OR Chief Chuck Lovell. Washington State and Oregon have experienced dramatic increases in COVID cases since the beginning of November.



Source:  New York Times

Seattle Chief Adrian Diaz

In November we had a significant spike in officers with COVID. We had as many as 81 officers in some kind of quarantine or isolation. That was all during the Thanksgiving holiday time, and we also had people taking time off then, so having people out with COVID greatly reduced our resources.

We’re now down to 45 people in isolation or quarantine. Many people with confirmed COVID cases in November have returned to work. I think we’ve had three cases in the first 10 days of December.

We continue to push out information about our COVID response daily. We’re reiterating the importance of PPE on certain types of calls for service. Because the weather has changed, we’ve seen a decrease in call load. So, while we have seen a decrease in staffing, we’ve been able to meet our needs without shifting staffing from other parts of the department.

From COVID initially hit in March until we started having daily demonstrations at the end of May and beginning of June, we didn’t see a lot of cases, even during the heavy demonstration period. But as we got into October, we started to see people coming down with what they thought were normal fall colds. Then in November we started to see that huge spike in COVID. So I think there was a little bit of complacency. We’re still dealing with nightly demonstrations, though they’re drastically reduced in size. They’re now down to 15-30 people, but we still have to staff it because they’re focused on direct action and call themselves “disrupters.”


Right now, police are in category 1B. 1A is health care responders and those living in senior homes. They’ll be the first to be vaccinated. Firefighters, police, and other types of first responders are 1B.

We’re still trying to get more clarity, but I understand that there are 404,000 vaccines that will come to the State of Washington initially. 130,000 will come to King County. We think that within the next couple weeks, we’ll probably be getting to that 1B section. So we could easily see access to a vaccine for patrol officers within the next 2-3 weeks.

Right now we’re trying to figure out who will store the vaccine, and who will administer it. We have a leading hospital here, at the University of Washington, and they may play a big role in distributing the vaccine.

There have been mixed emotions toward the vaccine. We’re making sure officers have the latest information to make a well-informed decision.

We’ve talked to some of our legal advisors and are still trying to get good feedback about whether we can mandate the vaccine or if it will be voluntary. If it does go through a voluntary process, we understand that some might not take it. Speaking for myself, I will take the vaccine.

The union has not taken a stand on whether or not to support vaccination. I think they want as much information as possible so they can make an informed decision and relay that information to union members.

Vancouver Chief James McElvain

We work very closely with public health to address potential COVID contacts. I am not aware of any of our officers contracting COVID based on responding to calls for service. We have had people contract COVID through their off-duty engagement. Some of it is from traveling outside the area and coming back. That has created a lot of consternation with public health, because officers have been coming back to work and engaging with coworkers.

While we do have policies and procedures on wearing masks and socially distancing, sometimes that becomes a little loose around the patrol station. We end up with public health mandating that people quarantine because somebody has been infected with COVID and interacted with coworkers. That’s the biggest issue with controlling the spread within the organization. I know other agencies have had officers contract COVID through contacts with the community, but we have not seen that in our organization.

The city did a really good job with moving toward teleworking. I was one of those who thought police couldn’t work from home. But we realized that many of our folks can effectively work from home, though clearly not patrol operations. So we rapidly moved into that style of working.

The community was very cooperative on the front end, but as the regulations were loosened during the summer months, people became a bit more confident about being out. Now, with this latest shutdown, I think there’s a great deal of frustration in the community. We don’t experience the same level of protesting as Portland or Seattle, but we have experienced some protests over the last two months.


I think there is anticipation about whether the vaccine will be a game-changer for everybody. Will that mean we can loosen some restrictions?  I just spoke with our union president about this, and I know there are some concerns about whether we’re going to require people to take the vaccine. We’re trying to work through that with our legal folks.

I will be one of the first people in line to get the vaccination. We should be looking to lead the way with our folks.

Portland Chief Chuck Lovell

Our city and our police bureau have seen a big uptick in COVID infections in the last month or so. I think we’ve had a total of 19 positive cases across the organization, with includes 1,100 people. The vast majority of those have come up in the last three weeks or so. And we currently have five people in quarantine who have a pretty high potential of becoming ill with COVID because of their proximity and length of exposure to other positive members. We currently have 20 total on quarantine, and we have had 45 on quarantine at various times over the course of the pandemic.

So we’ve done pretty well compared to a lot of other West Coast agencies. But the last 3-4 weeks have brought a big uptick for us.

We’ve instituted an incident management team for COVID-19. They manage the messaging and how our organization implements restrictions. Our city has required everyone who works in a city building to wear a mask 24/7 while they’re in city buildings. So even when I’m in my office alone, I’m required to wear a mask.

All our folks who can do so are working from home. Even the five chiefs take one day a week in the office on rotation so that we’re not around each other.

We’ve had people who have gotten COVID during their outside-of-work activities. But it’s hard to tell people not to go to lunch with their friends or to be around other officers. It’s about trying to keep people out of situations where there’s the potential for spread. We’ve closed our gyms. Our goal is to stop the spread, and we worry about people possibly bringing this home to immune-compromised loved ones. So we’ve tried to be really stringent on the things we’ve implemented to keep people safe.


The vaccine talks here are in the early stages. We’ve had some discussion with our city attorneys about whether the vaccine will be mandatory for first responders, and if people will have a choice about when they get it. I think some people might be willing to take the vaccine but don’t want to be the first to  get it. They may want to give it a little time to see how the first batches go.

It looks like it will likely be mandated to first responders and city employees here. We’ll probably make some religious or ADA accommodations if we need to. The issue of bargaining has come into that discussion as well.

I feel like most people would get it voluntarily. I would. I don’t have any reservations about it. But we’re just getting into the talks about when it will be arriving, how it will be distributed, and whether law enforcement or first responder resources will be needed to assist with the distribution.


The large-scale demonstrations have largely subsided. More recently we’ve had smaller, direct-action type events. We’ll have a small group that goes out and does criminal vandalism, targeting businesses with graffiti and smashed windows. We’ve been contending with them, but it’s maybe a night or two every couple weeks, not every night.

Right now we have an “occupation” occurring in North Portland. There’s an eviction process that has taken place over a long period of time and some folks have galvanized support against it. They just blocked the streets and created an occupation zone. So we’re dealing with that right now


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.