For today’s Daily COVID-19 Report, PERF spoke with three chiefs from Midwestern states about how they’ve managed the COVID surge over the past couple months. In all three states, the recent wave of cases peaked in mid-November, but deaths have continued to rise since then.




Source: New York Times

Kansas City, MO Chief Rick Smith

Our city has seen an uptick in the number of virus cases. Our hospitals are getting overworked. Medical staff are actually making commercials to try to get people to wear masks and do less in the city, in order to stop the spread.

Our department has seen a huge uptick in the last few weeks. We’ve tested over 1,440 members of our department, which has about 2,000 members total. We’ve returned 192 people to work after testing positive. We currently have 24 positive, and we have had 216 test positive since this started.

We’ve been very fortunate, because only a few people have needed medical attention, and no one has needed serious medical attention. I feel very fortunate that none of our employees have had it that badly.

I try to call every single employee who tests positive. For the most part, it seems like our people are getting it from outside the department.

We have a mask mandate. We allow people to take off their masks in their workspaces. So if the two-person crews are comfortable with it, we allow them to take off their masks in their cruisers so they don’t have to wear it for a full 10-hour shift. They have to wear it when they interact with the public.

We have backup plans in place if a watch or a station goes down, but we have not implemented any of those. I think the most we’ve had quarantined at any one time is about 70. Right now we’re at 45, and sometimes we’re down to 20. If it continues that way, I imagine we’ll stay the course.

Public Health Orders

Orders about wearing a mask and closing businesses are very controversial. Some business owners and others in the community are starting to loudly voice their opinion that the way regulations are being implemented is not fair. For example, the big box stores are full of people, but the mom-and-pop shops are limited, and they’re closing because they’re not doing enough business to stay open. The way these rules are being applied has been a controversial topic.

Our police department is staying out of COVID enforcement. We will back up health officials. We have been asked a few times to engage directly in mask or business compliance, and we have said no. We will be happy to respond to if there’s a disturbance while other entities enforce these regulations, but we will not take an active enforcement role.


I’m a little concerned, because we’re getting a lot of pushback from our officers about not wanting to take the vaccine. It’s a higher number than I would have anticipated. I was on a regional call with chiefs of police, and several of those chiefs said they didn’t think they’d take it. I didn’t think it would be that controversial.

Personally, I welcome the vaccine, and I’d like to get it. I haven’t had COVID, and I’d like to avoid getting it. But I’m surprised at the number of people who think that “it’s going to make you sick,” or “you don’t need it,” or “the herd immunity will come in and you’ll never get sick,” or “you’ll get sick mildly and you’ll never need it.” I’ve heard all kinds of excuses. I’m surprised by the number of people who just say, “No, I’m not getting the vaccine.”

Omaha, NE Chief Todd Schmaderer

Early on in the pandemic, we laid the foundation for what we want to do as an agency to preserve our workforce. Things like telecommuting when possible, mask usage, PPE, and contact tracing. We’ve carried on pretty well.

From mid-October through November, the city of Omaha hit its peak with COVID, and the police department did as well. We have about 1,200 employees. We’ve had 179 test positive, and nearly half of those came in November. So it hit us hard and intensely in November, just as it did for the city.

We have contingency plans to move some people to patrol from the other bureaus. Those haven’t been completely enacted yet, but we’re on the verge of enacting them. Some of the people who went out in November are starting to come back, so we may not need to go to the contingency plan.

In December we’ve only had 16 people test positive. So it looks like the police department is coming off its peak as the city comes off its peak.

Public Health Orders

We are responsible for the enforcement of any Douglas County health measures that are established. We have a mask ordinance in place and are responsible for that.

We want voluntary compliance first and foremost. We try to use education to gain compliance. We do it this way because I don’t think there would be much general deterrence gained by making mask arrests. And we know that COVID will end at some point and the police department will still be in the community. So we don’t want to unnecessarily over-police this issue and cause a lot of hard feelings.

So far, we’ve gotten great voluntary compliance and have only issued a handful of tickets.


A definitive answer about when we will get the vaccine is still up in the air. The governor has been very good to law enforcement and Omaha Police. The way I understand it is that health care workers will get it first, and then first responders, including police and fire. We’re hoping that we’ll be in line for vaccinations in the next month or two months.

I haven’t heard too much talk about not wanting to take the vaccine. It’s certainly not an overwhelming amount. We’re ready for the vaccination.

I suspect the main reason for that is that our union president got COVID, nearly died, and was just released from the ICU after a couple months. So he and I are both proponents of the vaccine.

Sioux City, IA Chief Rex Mueller

Early in the pandemic, we had two offices in my building, largely administrative and command staff personnel, that were struck. We worried about continuity of leadership, and if we’d have enough command staff to run the department as this progressed. Since we recovered from that, cases in the area have gotten worse. We’ve seen positive test rates above 20%, but that seems to be dropping. We’re still not in a very good position.

We have utilized the same procedures we did in the beginning, as far as sanitation of vehicles, temperature testing when officers arrive for duty, and quarantining after possible exposures. And we’ve been able to maintain continuity of services. We really haven’t seen our essential services impacted to a strong degree. We’ve always been able to maintain our patrol staffing. And I hope it stays that way.

Public Health Orders

I gave the city council my perspective on the governor’s proclamations. I know our governor’s heart is in the right place, but the proclamations were written in a very problematic manner. This business was acceptable, this business was not. Certain things were mandated, but if you looked at their website it said “recommended.”

I told our council that officers take an oath to the Iowa Constitution and the U.S. Constitution when they become police officers, and a lot of these mandates deal with constitutional issues, like 1st Amendment and 4th Amendment issues. My concern was that by aggressively enforcing the proclamation, we were going to be asking our officers to betray those constitutional oaths. While the governor gave us enforcement authority in some proclamations related to the pandemic, I made it clear to the council that it’s very important that we just seek voluntary compliance. And that whenever possible, we make a referral to public health or, if it’s a bar or tavern, to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. We want to serve as a referring agency, and not as enforcement.

We did a public information campaign where we gave credit to the citizens by saying, “This is a great community. We fully expect everyone to comply.”


We have been hoping that public health would give us some guidance on vaccines. I think they have their hands full with contact tracing right now. I don’t think they’ve given much consideration to the role law enforcement might have in security at vaccination locations or providing support. I’ve recently asked, but I think it’s so far down their list of priorities that it hasn’t happened yet.

As far as our policy for our own staff, we haven’t even gotten to the point where we would have the discussion about mandating vaccinations. We probably have to look at what policy the city implements and work off of that. We’re doing our best to respond and make policy as soon as we know what we’ll have access to. From what we know now, health care workers are going to be the first to receive the vaccine. We haven’t even been approached about when our staff could receive it.


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.