June 29, 2020


PERF’s COVID-19 coronavirus resources, including past editions of the Daily COVID-19 Report, are available at https://www.policeforum.org/coronavirus.


In today’s COVID-19 Report, PERF interviewed police leaders in Texas and Arizona, who are facing sharp increases in infections, among the general public and within their departments.

Key Takeaways

  • The increase in COVID cases in Texas and Arizona is significant and extremely concerning. Both states, as well as Florida and California, are seeing dramatic spikes in COVID-19 cases.  

Texas is experiencing more than 6,000 new cases per day, and Arizona is seeing more than 3,400 new cases per day (see New York Times graphs below).

  • Chiefs report different views about where they think employees are catching the virus. Possible sources include recent demonstrations, family members, bars and restaurants that have reopened, and officers spreading the virus within the department.
  • Agencies are reinforcing (or reinstating) measures to keep their officers safe. Regular reminders help to ensure that employees maintain public health precautions after more than three months of operating with the threat of COVID. And agencies that had altered mask requirements or other measures during recent demonstrations have reinstated those precautions.
  • Police are concerned about expectations that they should enforce rules that everyone must wear masks in public.
  • Police academy classes are being disrupted by COVID outbreaks. Several agencies have had academy classes put on hold due to outbreaks. The Phoenix Police Department had to work with its state POST to make sure they wouldn’t be required to restart the class entirely after pausing it for two weeks.

To reduce officers’ exposure, agencies are continuing to handle certain calls for service via telephone or online, and are holding roll calls outside or virtually.  In Austin, these alternative responses are no longer optional, but mandatory, for some calls.


Houston Chief Art Acevedo:


COVID-19 Has Exploded, and We’re Seeing a Surge in Officers Becoming Infected


COVID has exploded in Houston and Texas. We’re probably the worst city and county right now in the state of Texas. Since the reopening here, which was right before Memorial Day Weekend, we’ve seen an explosion.


Our ICU beds in Houston, which has the largest medical center in the world, are basically at full capacity. They’re starting to move adult patients to the children’s hospital to create more capacity.


We’ve seen a large increase with our officers. On May 29, we were at 47 officers with COVID. Today we’re at 184. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has had two deputies die from COVID.


We had protests a few weeks ago, with about 60,000 people at one march. But I can’t say that the outbreak in our department is from the protests, because we’ve been wearing masks and doing everything we’re supposed to do at work.


One thing that worried me about the city and state reopening is that our officers would start doing the things the rest of society is doing when they’re off duty. I think part of this is that officers who are off duty may not be doing everything they should be to stay safe, because the state wasn’t requiring it.


On June 26 our governor finally shut down bars, reduced restaurants back down to 50% capacity, and gave local officials the authority to limit gatherings in public spaces.


Our mayor announced that we’re requiring face masks in public. I’m concerned about people thinking that the police should enforce that.


The last thing we need is to become the mask police. Some of the people who are refusing to wear masks seem to be extremely unstable. They get angry.




Phoenix Chief Jeri Williams:


I Believe Our Increase in Police Officer Infections Is a Result of the Protests


We’ve seen a surge in the last 10 days. In the Police Department we went from having 20 people with COVID to 70 now, with 39 of them at home.


When our protests started, we weren’t wearing masks. Last week the city mandated that all employees wear masks, and I think that will mitigate things. We now have city and county orders requiring people to wear masks in city buildings, and that includes employees.


While folks are talking about defunding the police department, last Friday I sat before the mayor and city council to help them understand that I’m trying to lead with education and not write citations for public health orders. How are you going to have me be the COVID police, the community police, and defund me at the same time? I tried to caution the mayor and council about having us issue citations. People are frustrated and angry because they’ve been locked down, and now the only “gatherings” they have are these protests. So we’re leading with education.


I think the biggest challenge for us is the calls from community members letting us know that some restaurant or bar is allowing masks to be optional. If the infection numbers don’t go down, I think Arizona bars will close down.


In Scottsdale, which is a neighboring city, the health department was called to several bars and restaurants that were not enforcing the mask ordinance and issued those businesses $10,000 and $20,000 fines. I think it’s critical to make this a health issue, as opposed to a public safety issue.


We have to constantly remind our employees to wear a mask, even when off duty. I don’t think my folks are going out and doing the things the rest of the public are doing. I think their infections were due to the protests and the fact that we were tired, sweaty, hot, and in nonstop operations mode.


We’re making sure that we don’t switch partners. If you have a two-person unit, you’re going to keep the same two-person unit until we get on the other side of COVID. We’re also making sure we don’t brief inside, so we’re doing roll calls outside or doing virtual briefings.


We had 12 people out of a 40-person academy class tests positive, so we had to shut the academy down for the second time since COVID hit. We had to contact POST to get permission to allow this two-week break. In the past, Arizona POST has said that if you have a two-week break, you have to start the training all over again. But now they understand the need to have a little flexibility. We’re going to start them where they left off, instead of having to redo the class.




Austin Chief Brian Manley:


Our Hospitalizations Doubled in Two Weeks


We’re experiencing a surge here. Our numbers are much smaller than Houston’s, but the number of patients being treated for COVID in the hospital on June 12 was 134, and two weeks later we’re at 293. On any of the graphs, the trajectory of this is a straight line upward.


20 additional hospitalizations per day was always going to be a trigger for further restrictions, and we’re far exceeding that now.


The city has enacted steps to further restrict social gatherings and further enforce some safe practices, in an attempt to flatten this newest spike.


Our department got through the first couple of months of COVID with only two employees affected: one civilian and one front-line officer. We’ve now seen that number jump to 18. A large part of that is because our cadet class had an outbreak. We had 11 cadets test positive, and we’ve now delayed that class. They’re working from home and reviewing material they’ve already covered until we’re 14 days past the last positive exposure. If we didn’t do that, those 11 cadets wouldn’t have been able to complete the class. And we’re already in a difficult position with our city council delaying future cadet classes, so we need each and every one of these cadets.


We’re grateful the state shut down the bars and further reduced the restaurant capacity. There isn’t much of an enforcement mechanism against individuals, but there is an enforcement mechanism against establishments. That’s where the enforcement action is taking place.


Our mayor has reenacted some of the restrictions on gatherings, and now you are not to have a gathering of more than 10 people unless you meet certain exceptions, like being from the same household or certain approved government operations. We’re reinforcing the importance of social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, and the expectation is that if you are outside of your home, you will wear a face covering, unless you’re in your office or exercising.


The operational changes we made at the beginning of COVID are still in place. There are things we used to respond to but no longer respond to, such as minor vehicle crashes with no injuries and all cars drivable. In the past we would send an officer to calls that could be handled over our tele-serve or online reporting if the caller requested one. We’re no longer doing that. If it can be reported online or over the phone, that is what we expect.


We maintained the same disinfecting process for our vehicles. If we have an employee test positive or starts exhibiting symptoms, we will find the vehicle they last drove and run it through a decontamination procedure.


We’re doing all our briefings out in open space, or officers are getting in their cars and being briefed online.


We are still requiring every officer to take their own temperature before entering their work site. We purchased digital thermometers for every single employee. We were initially thinking a supervisor would scan the forehead, but that touched on privacy rights. So it’s all based on self-reporting. You take your temperature, and if it’s above 99.6, you report that to your supervisor and don’t go to work for the day.




San Antonio Assistant Chief James Flavin:


We Quickly Jumped from 6 COVID-Positive Officers to 40


Every couple of days, our county breaks another record for positive cases. We just broke another one with 639, which was by far the most we’ve had in a single day.


We had 6 sworn officers who were positive a little over two weeks ago, and we’re now at 40. It’s mainly our sworn officers; civilians aren’t testing positive quite as fast.


We don’t think it’s from the protests as much as they’re bringing it from home and, to a certain degree, maybe spreading it to each other. We’re seeing it all over the department, from administrative units to patrol. It’s fairly spread out, which is actually a blessing because we’re not shutting down any units right now, though we’re having to backfill in a couple places.


We have three cadet classes going right now. One has enough of an outbreak that we’re placing that class on hold. Another class has had a few cases in the last couple days, so we’ll be looking at that and probably putting them on hold as well.


We’re taking the same precautions as everyone else. We’re cleaning the vehicles, doing temperature checks, and pushing out PPE and regular reminders on hygiene. 


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.

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