July 8, 2020


Many news stories have been written about the surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas, especially in Houston and other large cities.  For this issue of PERF’s Daily COVID-19 Report, PERF spoke with police leaders in the medium-size cities of Lubbock (population 256,000), Denton (139,000), and Odessa (121,000).


Key Takeaways

-- Departments are seeing many asymptomatic cases. In both Lubbock and Denton, a majority of employees who recently tested positive were asymptomatic.

-- In Denton, two police employees tested positive twice. They tested positive, stayed home for 14 days, tried to come back, and tested positive again.

-- Police departments are reinstituting remote working. Departments had non-essential employees working from home at the outset of the pandemic, then scaled back those arrangements as the threat receded. With the new spike, they have reinstituted remote work arrangements for some employees.

-- Bar reopenings seem to be a factor in recent increases.

-- Younger people are driving the recent surge. The biggest increase is coming from people in their 20s and 30s.  


Lubbock, TX Assistant Chief Neal Barron: 

We Saw COVID Cases Jump After Bars Were Opened

We started to see an uptick here in Lubbock shortly after some of the reopening of bars, which started to occur around mid-June. We started at around 30 cases per day, then jumped up to 60 per day, then up to 100.  We hit 140 cases reported on June 24, and had almost 200 cases on July 1. We also dramatically increased the number of tests our city was doing during that same time period.

The majority of new cases during that time period came from a younger demographic. It was the 20-29 age group that really saw a jump after the bars reopened.

We also had our department’s first case on June 17, and that quickly exploded. Within seven days we were up to 10 cases in our department. But we haven’t had any more since about June 22.

As soon as we had our first case, we went back to a remote working environment for all but the essential personnel. Some of our ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children), forensics, and dispatch personnel had to come in, but everyone else began to work remotely. We did that for two weeks, and now we’ve scaled back to only 50% of personnel in units like detectives and administrative staff working remotely.

We’re doing patrol briefings in the field, so patrol officers aren’t coming into the police department in mass numbers to get their daily briefing. We instituted a PPE policy very early on. Any officer who is in contact with a citizen, whether it is in a patrol function or a detective function, is required to wear a mask. Once we had our first case, all officers and any other city employees inside the police department were required to wear a mask when outside their office or when they cannot socially distance inside their office. We’ve been using Zoom and Skype for any meetings that have to occur.

We haven’t had any new cases for a couple weeks now, so we feel like these precautions are working pretty well.

We have eight officers who are still in quarantine. Two have recovered, and we expect another three to be listed as recovered shortly. Surprisingly, the majority of our officers who have tested positive have been asymptomatic, and fortunately no one has had to be hospitalized.

Chuck Wexler: Have they closed the bars? And are you enforcing any social distancing?

Asst. Chief Barron: The governor initially closed all the bars, then, as part of the phased reopening, he reopened the bars for a short time, and that’s when we started that second spike in mid-June.

The orders from the governor and our city council have not been enforceable by the police department up until the governor’s most recent order, which went out last week. That allowed law enforcement to enforce gatherings and face coverings in public. 


Denton, TX Chief Frank Dixon: 

We Had Protests, Then a Reopening of the City, and Now a Sharp Increase in Cases

We had a sharp increase in cases in Denton County over the last two weeks. Our police department hadn’t had anyone test positive until about two weeks ago. As it stands today, three sworn personnel and two civilian employees have tested positive. Four of the five were asymptomatic. One sworn and one civilian have tested positive twice. They tested positive, stayed home for 14 days, just tried to come back, and tested positive again. We don’t know if this will be a trend, but they’re now each going to be home for 28 days total.

We have an additional 10 people – 3 sworn and 7 civilians – who are under quarantine right now.

We were pretty aggressive about our mandatory face coverings for police personnel when this first started, and we were also aggressive about sending all non-essential personnel, sworn and civilian, to work from home in the very beginning.

We had just started reopening our city the week the protests started, which threw in a whole new dynamic. You can’t really work a protest and be socially distanced. We were glad we didn’t get a sharp uptick during the first two to two-and-a-half weeks of the protests, but the last two weeks we’ve started to see an increase.

We’re dialing back again by sending as many people home as we can to work remotely. We have a tiered system in place to start replacing patrol positions if we need to. We’ll use school resource officers, community resource officers, and non-essential detective units, such as general investigations. They still need to work those cases, but they can let them go for another week or two if we need to backfill patrol. But right now, we’re not in a bad spot.

Wexler:  How did you detect the asymptomatic cases? Are you testing everybody?

Chief Dixon: They were tested because they had been in direct contact with others who had tested positive. That was done out of an abundance of caution, and it turns out they were positive. Over the last few days we’ve gotten some testing kits, and we’ve tested 85 of our 182 sworn personnel so far. We’ll continue testing this week, and I have a feeling we’ll get more positives out of that. 


Odessa Deputy Chief Matt Davidson:

The Population Group Getting Hit Now Is Age 21 to 40

Similar to Lubbock, we saw an uptick in the last two weeks of June, starting around the 21st. We didn’t really have many protests, so that probably wasn’t a factor here. The population that’s getting hit the hardest is people 21-40, which is also the majority of our staff. We have six people currently out after testing positive for COVID, and none of them seem related to calls for service. We did have a policy in place for PPE gear, including face coverings and gloves.

Patrol hasn’t changed too much. Our criminal investigation division has a staggered response, so half of them are coming in from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the other half are coming in from 3 p.m. to midnight.

As far as the governor’s orders, I think we all faced the same problem where the initial orders weren’t enforceable and kind of pitted citizens against the police. With this recent order, we’re trying to take a more realistic approach by dealing with these issues as we come across them during calls for service, rather than actively seeking them out.

Wexler: Do you think reopening bars contributed to the recent increase?

Deputy Chief Davidson: I absolutely think it did in Odessa. It feels like we have as many bars as churches, and I think they came back with a vengeance. It started the party culture, where people who were cooped up wanted to get out of the house. 


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.

Police Executive Research Forum
1120 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 930
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 466-7820