For today’s report, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with four law enforcement executives: NYPD Chief of Department Terry Monahan; Phoenix Chief Jeri Williams; Providence, RI Chief Hugh Clements; and Hennepin County, MN Sheriff David Hutchinson.

All four are from states that have experienced recent COVID increases:

New York


Rhode Island


Source: New York Times

NYPD Chief of Department Terry Monahan

Right now we’re starting to see the numbers go up rather dramatically. We’re up to 5.3% of our department out sick.

In September we had 47 members test positive. In October we had 159. In November we had 422. And we already have 159 through the first six days of December.

We decided to start sending home civilian employees who can perform their functions from home. Out of about 18,000 civilians, that’s 1,000 to 2,000 who we’re sending home right now in phase one.

If more people start getting sick as we get farther into December, we’re going to have to send more people home and be more restrictive in what we do.

The only good thing is that out of everyone who recently got sick, only two are currently hospitalized, and both are in stable condition. The majority of people who’ve been sick have gotten back to work within about two weeks. So we’re not seeing the severity we saw early on, but, obviously, we’re just getting into the thick of things.

Facemasks are mandatory throughout the department. We’re being very vigilant going forward.

Chuck Wexler: What are you doing differently now compared to the first wave?

Chief Monahan: The PPE. When this first started, we couldn’t even get our hands on PPE. We had to struggle to get the equipment that our cops needed. Now it’s in abundant supply. There are masks and hand sanitizer everywhere. People have their temperature taken before coming into any building. We’re taking all the necessary precautions, which we couldn’t always do at the beginning because we didn’t always have everything we needed.

Also, I don’t know if everyone understood how bad this was when it first hit us. But we learned, and at least we’re better prepared now.

Wexler: Are you changing anything about staffing or deployment?

Chief Monahan: Since this started, roll calls have been socially distant, and we have them outside if we can. We’re staying with two-man cars, because we cannot have anything less here in New York.

The big difference is that the protests are now minimal here. We were putting our cops eight to a van when responding to protests. That was becoming problematic. One person in the van would get sick, and everyone else would contract it.

Whenever we have an office or precinct with a couple COVID cases, we’re sending “clean teams” right out there to disinfect the facility.

A lot of what we did early on is just being amplified now.

Wexler: Do you know where your employees are getting infected?

Chief Monahan: When we first started seeing the increase, the vast majority of them had traveled. They had been on vacation, came back, and then they got sick. But as the numbers have started increasing, it’s getting harder to trace it. One person will get sick, and suddenly six or seven will go out with it.

Increased testing is making a difference for us. We’ve had testing throughout each of our boroughs and here at headquarters, and we’re catching a lot more asymptomatic or mild cases. We’re sending them out of work right away, so they don’t get other people sick.

Wexler: How long do people need to stay out after testing positive?

Chief Monahan: Ten working days, which comes to two weeks.

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

Chief Monahan: We’ve stepped away from COVID enforcement, so our sheriff does all COVID-related enforcement right now. We were really bombarded early on when we were doing social distancing enforcement. Our cops are only in a support role on that at this point.

Phoenix Chief Jeri Williams

COVID is definitely increasing. I have a little over 4,000 employees, and 386 of them have tested positive for COVID. Fortunately, we have not had any deaths. We’ve had a couple who were hospitalized, but not for a very long period of time.

Police officers interact with everyone all the time. So the city’s position is that regardless of where you contracted it, the city is going to give you up to 80 hours of leave to get better. We realize that if you come back to work because you’re concerned about leave time, you’re going to infect others.

Wexler: Is your approach different than it was during the initial wave?

Chief Williams: We aren’t making many changes to our approach. We had about 300 members who were able to telework. Some of them we realized we needed as critical functions, so we had to bring some folks back in. But we’re bringing them back in smarter ways. We’re dividing them in shifts. We’re making sure we only have a certain number of people in any one location. We’re reiterating the mask mandate. Early on I decided to specify what types of masks my employees could wear. They’re allowed to wear white surgical, blue surgical, black, or blue. I didn’t want to have the “public statement” masks that people sometimes wear, even if you’re not a sworn employee.

Wexler: Will your department do anything differently during the holiday season, when people like to get together?

Chief Williams: It’s typical for divisions or work units to have potlucks during the holiday season. I had to send out an email letting employees know that this season – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc. – we will not authorize any work units to have potlucks.

There was also a city message to employees suggesting that their holiday celebrations either be virtual or with fewer than 10 people.

For the first time in 30 years, I didn’t have a house full of 20 to 40 people for my Thanksgiving. It was only four of us. We’re trying to make sure we don’t contaminate or infect anyone, because the four of us in my house are all essential workers.

Providence Chief Hugh Clements

We’ve been hit particularly hard in Rhode Island and specifically in Providence. Rhode Island started off slowly with the virus, and I think we’re in the peak right now. Providence is a very densely populated city. There’s a lot of communal living and a huge immigrant population. Living quarters and working quarters are tight.  I believe that is one reason our infection rate is so high.

We’re confident we can navigate our workforce through both the coronavirus and the civil unrest. And those two factors collided to impact the work of the men and women of the Providence Police Department.

Since March, we’ve learned a lot about how you contract this virus, and we’ve pivoted along the way. In the beginning, our mask policy required officers to wear a mask when they were in close proximity to their coworkers or community members, but it wasn’t required eight hours a day during a shift. That has changed, and constant mask wearing is mandatory throughout the building. Anyone outside of their cubicle is wearing their mask. At all times in the community, they’re wearing their masks.

We’ve had a Plan B, which is our field force unit. That unit is about 60 to 65 members from throughout the department. We haven’t had to enact that as a separate field force unit, but we’ve come dangerously close. We almost enacted it as the protests were coming every one or two days, some very contentious with bottles, bricks, and fires.

We also had different plans for putting the patrol bureau out in the communities. But we didn’t have to engage those plans.

Wexler: Are you doing anything differently around the holiday season?

Chief Clements: In years past, every single unit would have their own separate Christmas parties and events. Those have all been put on hold for 2020.

In the beginning, we had great difficulty COVID-testing public safety personnel, but we finally got to a comfortable spot with the state and the National Guard. Now, with the help of the Providence Fire Department, we’re going to have the ability to test daily in the main public safety headquarters. That will be very helpful.

Wexler: Do you know where police officers are in the order to receive the vaccine in Rhode Island?

Chief Clements: It appears that we’ll be in the second wave. The first responders in the medical field and those in critical care facilities will be in the first tier. Public safety will be in the second tier.

Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson

We’re a hotbed here. At our highest point, about a month ago, we had 87 inmates and 39 staff with COVID. Today we’re at 7 inmates and 7 staff.

We’re testing and screening everybody. All staff, contractors, court officials, attorneys, and everyone else who goes into the jail is screened for their temperature. And we just started weekly mandatory COVID testing for all staff, including contractors and support staff. We are offering tests for every single inmate, but we can’t force them to get tested.

We are trending down. The height was about a month ago, and this is the lowest we’ve been in a while. I attribute that to our testing, to taking temperatures, and to our PPE. We make sure our staff are socially distanced when they’re eating.

We have a new jail and an old jail that are connected by a tunnel. So we can separate the people who are sick, the people who could be sick, and the people who aren’t sick.

We’ve cut down on a lot of the programs that bring in people from outside the jail. We’re doing a 10-day quarantine for inmates. We’re doing a lot of saliva testing for inmates if they want. We’re testing symptomatic inmates.

We have two doctors on staff, and we’ve developed a good method for keeping numbers low.

Wexler: How long does it take to get the test results back?

Sheriff Hutchinson: Some of them are the quick tests. The other ones take a few days. We’re lucky because we have Hennepin County Medical Center nurses and doctors in our facility. So turnaround is fast.

Wexler: Are you now assisting the Minneapolis Police Department with patrol operations in the city?

Sheriff Hutchinson: Yes, and we have been throughout the entire unrest. They’ve recently allotted extra money for us, and we’re just working out some details. We’ll assist with some intelligence and with our violent offender task force. We’ve been doing that, but the difference is that we’ll be getting paid by Minneapolis.

Minneapolis is in my county, and we’re going to make sure those people are protected. COVID is hitting us bad, but we’re also having hundreds of carjackings, and violent crime is up beyond belief.


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.