For today’s COVID-19 Report, PERF interviewed five university police chiefs about their plans for maintaining public safety and security when their universities begin their fall semester or quarter.

Key Takeaways

-- Campus police departments are facing unprecedented and unknown challenges as they consider whether and how to resume various levels of in-person classes.  Officials are trying to plan for social distancing in classrooms, lecture halls, campus housing facilities, dining halls, etc. But universities tend to be densely populated environments, and the college experience has traditionally been about meeting and interacting with a wide range of people. There is great uncertainty about the risks of COVID transmission in dorms, at social events, at sports events, and other aspects of college life. This is really uncharted territory.

-- University police do not wish to be put in the position of having to enforce public health orders. University police chiefs don’t think their officers should be enforcing public health guidance on masks and social distancing, especially during the current national discussion about the role of police.

-- Instead of enforcement, campus police are focusing on education and modeling behavior such as wearing masks.

-- Protests about policing and use of force are impacting campus police. University police have been included in protests about policing, and they expect protest activity may increase when students return to campus. This is particularly true for universities located in state capitals.

-- Many universities are planning to play sports. Many schools intend to go forward with some sports, including football. Under current plans, there will be some modifications, but some fans may be in attendance.


Arizona State University Police Chief Michael Thompson:

We’re Planning to Offer a Mix of In-Person and Online Classes

We’re planning a three-prong approach:

  • There’s going to be an online version of classes. There are a lot of students who can continue to take their classes online, just as they did at the tail end of the spring semester.
  • We have a hybrid, with some in-person and some online interactions.
  • And we’re  going to have some immersion classes. There are some classes that require being in the environment, such as research and labs.

The university has come up with a robust plan for maintaining face coverings while in public, washing hands, and installing plexiglass where there’s a lot of interaction between people. A lot of hand sanitizing stations are being set up.

All the students, staff, and faculty are being offered free COVID testing. You don’t have to be exhibiting any symptoms. Many of our officers have been taking advantage of that and having themselves tested every few weeks. That’s been comforting to many of the officers and employees at ASU.

We had one of the first cases at a university in the United States back in January, so we’ve been dealing with this since then. As the semester went on, we had an increase in students coming down with COVID. Officers were given all their personal protective gear and instructions on how to take precautions. I think officers feel comfortable.  We didn’t have any officers contract COVID from that initial increase. We’re just very careful about how we respond, using gloves, masks, and eye protection.

Student housing:  If COVID seems to be spreading in one particular building, our plan is to isolate that building and move people out who aren’t showing any symptoms. There would be some kind of isolation period for those folks to make sure they aren’t just asymptomatic. Then they would be moved to another building to be reintegrated with the well population. The university may be able to contract with hotels in the area, which are struggling with the lack of tourists, to quarantine people.

Sports:  There hasn’t been any official announcement yet about sports, but they are planning to try to at least play some football. They will only play within our own conference, the PAC-12, with five home games and five away games. Admittance into the stadium will be extremely limited, with spacing all around. The visiting team will show up, but no cheerleaders or band from the other team. ASU’s band will have a limited number of people, will be spaced, and will stay in their seats. So it will be very limited, but they are planning to play those games.

Police roles:  Our officers aren’t expected to be the social distancing police. I think social distancing is an example of the current concerns across the United States about police being involved in things we shouldn’t necessarily be involved with. The university administration agreed that this isn’t necessarily a police issue. Social distancing is a CDC guideline, and we’re trying to make sure the campus is healthy and safe for people to live, work, and grow.

We have a small role in the response to large events and  gatherings. They’re limiting it to no more than 50 people at any one gathering and requiring social spacing. We do not want to get in the business of enforcing spacing in classrooms or mask-wearing. That will be addressed by the university dean’s office or the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities through an administrative process.


University of Notre Dame Police Chief Keri Kei Shibata:

Students Will Be Expected to Come to Class in Person

  • Everyone is coming back to campus who would normally be on campus.
  • All classes have to be prepared for both online and in-person options, although students will be expected to come to class in person unless their health won’t allow them to.
  • Everyone will be doing daily health checks on a website that asks a number of questions about symptoms.
  • Residence halls are full to almost normal capacity, although they did allow more people than usual to live off campus.
  • Classes will use social distancing, so they’re finding lots of different spaces to use for classes and putting up tents on the quads for study space and dining.
  • And everyone is required to wear masks.

We’re excited to have students back, because it has been a long time without them here and it has been very different. But we’re being very cautious and keeping an eye on everything. If we start to see an increase in cases on campus that’s unmanageable, we’ll make different decisions.

Managing students’ behavior:  The university is working with student leaders to try to positively influence student behavior and encourage them not to have large parties and, if they have small gatherings, keep track of the people there, so contact tracing can be done if necessary. When we shut down, we had a couple hundred students who had nowhere to go. They were very good about following guidelines and rules. We expect a lot of our students, and we expect that they will mostly behave well.

We are not the social distancing and mask police. There has been an extensive campaign, called the “Here” campaign, to encourage masks and social distancing. There will be Here ambassadors, both students and staff, encouraging people to follow mask and social distancing rules in places where there tend to be a lot of people. If there are violations, it’s up to managers to handle those with employees, faculty to handle those in the classrooms, and student affairs for other student violations.

COVID testing:  Students will all be tested at home before they arrive on campus. We have a testing center in our football stadium. Right now we’re reliant on labs, so results can range from a couple days to 7-9 days, depending on how busy the labs are. They do need a recommendation from a doctor to get tested, so it’s not at-will. But if anyone has any kind of symptoms, they receive a recommendation. We have ordered a 40-minte test and hope to receive that sometime in September.

Sports Announcements about sports have not been made yet, but we’re working on plans. Certainly there will be a very reduced stadium capacity for football games, trying to phase people in so they can stay distant, and having a controlled release at the end of the game. 


University of Texas at Austin Police Chief David Carter:

We Won’t Be the COVID Enforcement Police, But We Will Model Good Behavior

We’re planning a hybrid system, where some students attend online and some come to class. Students were given options about whether they wanted to attend in-person or online.

We are not going to be the COVID enforcement police. We try to model good behavior, so all our officers are wearing face coverings. They are also wearing N95 masks or face shields if close contact is necessary, such as during an arrest.

We have had some scares with positive COVID tests, but we currently do not have any COVID cases out of our 101 sworn officers.

I know we also have faculty and staff who have expressed some concern about returning during COVID. That’s an ongoing discussion, but I’m not involved in those conversations.

Protests about policing:  The biggest challenge for us now is the climate we find ourselves in. We’re a few blocks north of the state capitol, and a few blocks further is downtown, where the fatal shooting of a Black Lives Matter protester open-carrying an AK-47 occurred last Saturday night. There is a follow-on Black Lives Matter protest this Saturday that is planning to assemble right below the UT Tower. We’re going to have this group assemble on campus, and then march to a city councilmember’s house, where they are expected to push for defunding the Austin Police Department. We are staffed for that and coordinating with the Austin Police Department. It will be easier because students won’t be back yet, but that will the first significant protest we’ve had on campus since the Minneapolis incident.

Texas’s open-carry law:  In Texas, you have the right to open-carry an assault rifle, but the one place you can’t open-carry a rifle is a university campus. One challenge we’ll face on Saturday is to keep a low profile, based on the nature of the protest, but keep a lookout for any protesters who are open-carrying firearms on campus, which is a violation of state law.

Sports:  They’re still working through a lot of the plans for athletics. Our athletic director says we’re having football, but the stadium will only be at 50% capacity. Our department will do the same things we normally do for games. 


University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Chief Kristen Roman:

We’re Expecting 7,300 to 7,500 Students in Residence Halls

Like Austin, Texas, we’re also located in our state capital and dealing with the overlap of issues, with our rich history of activism on our campus. We’re heading into the fall with that at the fore in terms of our preparation and concern, all within the context of COVID.

The plan for operations on our campus is that classes will resume on September 2, and move-in will be the last week of August. Our housing staff is preparing to welcome 7,300-7,500 students into the residential halls. We’re taking similar precautions as the other chiefs on this call have mentioned, including masks and distancing.

COVID testing and contact tracing:  We have a robust testing protocol:

  • We’re making testing sites readily available, and faculty, staff, and students do not need a referral to get a test.
  • In addition to free testing, there will be required testing on a biweekly basis for those who live or work in the residential halls. Other groups will also have required testing, based on their potential risk and exposure.
  • And there will be some surveillance testing to monitor any indicators of an increase across campus that may be emerging.
  • Testing and contact tracing will be essential for us to make it to our goal of getting to Thanksgiving on campus.  After Thanksgiving, students will finish the rest of the semester off-campus.

Student parties are a concern:  Student accountability regarding parties is one of our concerns. We’re doing a lot of messaging. Like most police departments, our stance to various calls for service has been modified during COVID. We’re developing our expectations, precautions, and plans for engaging with students.

Sports:  There hasn’t been a formal announcement about football and other athletics, but the intention is to have some Big Ten conference-only play. There is more to come about those decisions, but there is an expectation that there will be some football.


University of Chicago Police Chief Kenton Rainey:

All Students, Faculty, and Staff Must Complete a COVID Training Session

We’re on the quarter system, and our students are coming back at the end of September/beginning of October. We are going to be functioning under a hybrid system, where some of our classes will be done remotely, and we’re flexible towards the ones that need to be done in person. The majority will be done remotely. We’re just bringing freshmen and sophomores back to campus so we can comply with CDC guidelines on social distancing.

Right after the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis, students marched on our building and occupied our lobby. My personnel performed admirably, and it did not become a story. We let them have the lobby area. As long as it’s just civil disobedience and they’re not breaking anything or jeopardizing public safety, we let them carry the day. They stayed there all night until early the next morning, then they left.

Promising to comply with all rules and precautions:  Each student, faculty member, and staff member, including members of my department, must go through a training class where they attest that they will comply with all safety precautions regarding PPE, social distancing, self-monitoring for COVID systems, not coming on campus if they exhibit any COVID symptoms, and reporting any positive test to the university for contact tracing.

We cancelled all sports on campus, including football and basketball.

We’re providing PPE for all police personnel. We deep clean our vehicles once a week. Patrol vehicles are disinfected by our personnel at the beginning and end of each shift. All our roll calls are outside.

All our precautions are based on the guidelines from the CDC, the city, and the state.


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.