Colleges and universities remain a focal point in managing the spread of COVID-19, both on campuses and in the communities where the schools are located. For today’s report, PERF spoke with three college and university police chiefs about lessons they learned during the fall semester and their plans for the spring semester. PERF previously interviewed campus police chiefs for the October 19 and July 30 Daily COVID-19 Reports. 

William Evans, Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police, Boston College Police Department

I think going into the fall semester, we were all wondering whether we would make it. [Boston College President] Father William Leahy was one of the first university presidents to say we were going to give it a go. We had a good team of police, residence staff, facilities staff, and dining staff. We had daily meetings where we triaged everything as we moved through the semester.

At first, we didn’t have a big uptick, and we hit our highest peak around mid-semester. Counting those in quarantine and those in isolation, I don’t think we ever went over 100 at any one time. So I think the plan worked well.

Our role was to have a police officer at any quarantine or isolation site 24/7. We were watching those sites constantly. And our community service officers drive the vans that transport the sick students around.

We learned that you have to be ready to staff up. There were times when we didn’t have enough vans, and other times we ran short of police officers. We had several police officers get sick with COVID. One of our van drivers has been out a while and is still sick. And several 9-1-1 dispatchers got sick.

Our testing has been going well. When all 14,000 students return, everyone living on campus will have to get tested. Once they’re tested, they go into quarantine. The college provides their meals until they receive negative test results.

They stagger the days the students come in. Staggering the move-in worked really well in the fall, and we’ll probably continue to do that after COVID is long gone. Our move-in went as smoothly as it has ever gone.

We had 12 football games, 6 of them here on campus. I don’t think anyone anticipated we’d be able to pull off 6 football games. The football team, to their credit, had only one COVID case during the whole season. There were no spectators at all. Both teams had their players and staff, there were referees, and we had officers stationed inside, who had all been tested. Then we had officers at the gates and officers walking around the campus to make sure there was no partying going on.

About half the classes were online. A lot of the older professors taught online classes. Even then the students could still go into the classroom, because some teachers taught remotely to the students in the classroom. The administration tried to accommodate both the students and the professors.

I have to give the students a lot of credit. We did a lot of education, saying that we were taking a chance on opening up the school, and it was up to them to make sure we got through the semester. All in all, the students were great. If you messed up, the discipline was swift and certain, which helped. It set the tone that Boston College wants you to finish the semester, and if you ruin it for the other students, you’re going to have to go home.

I think the plan here went well, and we’re going to use a lot of the same processes over the second semester to make sure it goes as well. We expect all 14,000 students back. We’re going to have the same protocol. We’re going to test everybody. I think we did well the first semester, and we basically just want to repeat what we did.

Starting January 11, all Massachusetts police officers and law enforcement, including campus police, are going to be offered the vaccine. The same goes for all 9-1-1 dispatchers, whether they’re from college or municipal police forces. That’s great for us, because we’re dealing with 14,000 students every day. I think vaccination of the students will be further off, because they’re younger and less susceptible to the dangers of the virus.

David Perry, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief of Police, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Police

We learned a lot from the fall semester. We tried to put our faith in our students to conduct themselves appropriately. We made a huge investment in PPE, plexiglass in the classrooms, and signage. We had apps and websites. And on campus we were very successful. We had lots of concerns from faculty members about their safety, but we did not have issues in the classroom. Students would wear masks in class, and we did not have to be the “mask police.”

Where we faced challenges was in our off-campus living. Unfortunately, our fraternities and sororities got a lot of attention for their mass gatherings. Early on, we partnered with the Chapel Hill Police Department. We do not have jurisdiction in the town or over the fraternities and sororities. But the chief and I came together and we decided the UNC Police would do joint patrols with the Chapel Hill Police Department, to serve as a force multiplier and share timely information with the university.

We didn’t do testing early on. We did contact tracing and had quarantine spaces set aside. Going forward, we have much more robust plans and activities in place.

We are conducting in-person classes this semester, but not at full capacity. Faculty members still have concerns about the safety of in-person classes.

There were significant concerns in the Chapel Hill community about holding our students accountable and making sure they adhere to the rules and regulations both on- and off-campus. We had to find ways to enforce our community standards to our students who are off campus.

We try to navigate that by being proactive and transparent. We’re proactive by letting the community see all the things we’re trying to do to inform our students, hold them accountable, and give them the information they need to do what’s right on- and off-campus. And we’ve been transparent with the discipline and the things we’ve done to try to hold students accountable. We don’t want to violate students’ privacy rights, but we have to be transparent when students do things like hold parties that jeopardize the health, welfare, and safety of community members and those back on campus.

Going forward, they’ve already signed an attestation statement. They have to be tested prior to returning. We’re going to be very proactive with students who violate the governor’s orders and our community standards.

We were allowed to have 7% capacity at our home football games. We put in safeguards and social distancing, and for the most part, people governed themselves accordingly. We did have some ejections of people who blatantly did not follow the guidelines and received two or three warnings.

For basketball, we have not been allowed any visitors or patrons at this time. Only family members, administrators, coaching staff, and players are allowed, as well as law enforcement to secure the facility. We’re hopeful that we will be able to host fans in our arena in the near future, because we showed we could do it for football.

COVID hasn’t impacted our officers until last week, when we had our first officer test positive. We separated our officers during briefings, used technology to clean our vehicles, and invested in every piece of PPE that would make sense for our officers. But that all has a limit, and there are still concerns about safety. I’m seeing and hearing it in some of our officers’ call for service.

Law enforcement officers are in a tier that will soon be offered the vaccine. From anecdotal information and some surveys we’ve conducted, we know that 85-90% of officers will be willing to be vaccinated. I haven’t heard information yet about vaccinations for students, faculty, and staff.


Philip Di Blasi, Acting Chief of Police, Wellesley College (MA) Police Department

About 50% of our classes are online, and 50% are in person. The students who were here had the option to learn remotely, and professors also had the option to teach remotely.

Wellesley College is a beautiful campus and a beautiful place to walk, and one of the big problems we had was students reconciling the fact that townspeople were still walking on our campus. The campus was closed, and the only people allowed on campus were folks with official business or who were authorized to be there. We were getting inundated with phone calls from students reporting people on campus who weren’t Wellesley College people. We had to tread very lightly to maintain town/gown relations. Thankfully, 22-degree weather showed up and helped nip that problem in the bud. But we anticipate that issue will be back when the weather gets better.

The students come back on February 15th. We’ve been very successful; I think we’ve only had a total of six cases among students. One thing that was instrumental was that our message was consistent across the board, from the president, to the deans, to the professors, to health services. The students are fantastic, and they get it. It also helped that we stopped our bus that takes students into Cambridge, so they can’t go to any gatherings that may be happening at MIT and Harvard.

We have a few officers who may be reluctant to get the vaccine, but others are full steam ahead.


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.