March 19, 2020


PERF has been hearing from police chiefs and sheriffs about their response to the coronavirus pandemic, including in the San Francisco Bay area, where seven counties have issued powerful orders requiring most types of businesses to close, and community members to “shelter in place” at home.

Today’s issue of the COVID-19 report consists entirely of quotes from five PERF members. We will provide additional quotes from other chiefs tomorrow.

As you will see from these comments, departments are showing remarkable speed and ingenuity in taking dozens of different actions to protect their officers, so that their officers can continue to do their daily work to protect the public.

But many chiefs noted one major problem that has not been resolved: It is difficult or impossible for them to get their officers tested for exposure to the coronavirus.

So when an officer reports symptoms such as fever, coughing, or having trouble breathing, the officer must immediately be sent home. Usually, these cases turn out not to be COVID-19, but in the meantime, the department is short-staffed. The lack of testing for first responders is causing increasing concern among chiefs who fear that their staffing levels will sharply depleted.


San Jose Chief of Police Eddie Garcia:

I’m Sick and Tired of Seeing Athletes and Actors Getting Tested, But Not First Responders

Our county, Santa Clara County, and six other adjoining counties are on lockdown. Everyone is to shelter in place, but there are a lot of exceptions to it. People can go out for medical appointments, to the grocery store, or tending to sick relatives, etc.

I put out a memo yesterday saying we are NOT to use the lockdown ordinance as a sole cause of probable cause for a detention, to make sure we won’t use that tool in a way that wasn’t intended.

Our county has the biggest cluster of COVID-19 cases so far; I think our county alone has about 150 cases. As a police department, we started preparing for this about three weeks ago:

  • We had some foresight and got a lot of equipment ahead of time.
  • Our officers are checking in with their supervisors twice a day for any signs or symptoms.
  • We check people’s temperatures as they head into briefings, and we don’t have briefings indoors anymore. Every patrol team briefs out in the city somewhere, so they’re in little pods, as opposed to clusters. We don’t have traditional briefings in rooms anymore.
  • We do deep-cleaning of our vehicles after arrests.
  • At our Bureau of Investigations, we started doing staggered shifts, where half of the bureau units come in at one time, and the other half come in later in the day, to keep the numbers down in the Bureau.
  • Officers are doing as much work as they can from home. We’ve got them computer systems so they can access our city systems from home.
  • Our patrol officers are all in their cotton BDUs -- washable uniforms, and we changed the dress code in the Bureau of Investigations for all washable wear as well;
  • We’ve been very fortunate, our sick calls have been very low.

Our biggest issue is the priority testing for our first responders.

I’m getting sick and tired of seeing professional athletes, actors, and everyone else getting tested when they don’t even have symptoms, while I can’t have a process for my first responders to get tested as quickly as we would like.


Atlanta Chief of Police Erika Shields:

An Officer Goes to the Doctor and Is Told, “Just Stay Home and See What Happens”

We haven’t been able to get our officers tested. So an officer has symptoms, and their doctor tells them, “Well, just stay home and see what happens.” I don’t think it is logistically feasible for us to take groups of 20 to 30 people and say, “Don’t come to work for two weeks,” because someone may have something that turns out to be a sinus infection. That may work for people who work in an office and can work remotely from home, but it doesn’t fit so well into policing.

So when we see someone with symptoms, we’re sending them home, we’re having them monitored, but it’s the testing part that is the hiccup.

We’re also pushing out the message that our employees will get paid regardless and not have to use their time, because I don’t want someone who doesn’t have time coming to work sick for fear of getting docked pay. We’re really trying to close up that gap and make sure that if you don’t feel well, you don’t come in.

My biggest heartburn is 911, because our policing skills don’t translate over to 911, and our dispatchers can’t do it remotely.

One thing we’re doing to prevent spread of infection is that if an employee says they don’t feel well, we immediately have their location decontaminated.

We’re also having our folks identify where there are senior citizens in high-rises, people who live alone. I don’t want to find out that someone died because they didn’t have enough food.


San Francisco Chief William Scott:

We’re Seeing Good Compliance with Our Shelter-in-Place Order

We started our Emergency Operations Center about the second week of February, so we’ve tried to get in front of this. We started our messaging to officers on this in late January, about hygiene and protective measures to prevent the virus from spreading. Our city declared a state of emergency on February 26, which helped because it got people taking it seriously early on. We went to prohibiting large gatherings two weeks ago; and a shelter-in-place order was put into place on Monday, which means that unless you are conducting essential business, you are supposed to be inside. That doesn’t prohibit people from doing things like walking their dogs.

Luckily for us, because we started putting out information early on, we’ve had pretty good compliance. We’ve had almost no issues. Monday night/Tuesday morning at midnight was when all the bars and restaurants were supposed to close. We put out information through the media that we would be conducting bar checks and restaurant checks city-wide, and most of the bars and restaurants started closing before midnight.

Our enforcement posture has been that we are asking for voluntary compliance, but we do have the law behind us. If people do not comply, it’s a misdemeanor and we’re working with the City Attorney to ensure that we can actually shut the business down. But there are very few people on the street.


Chief Peter Newsham, Washington, DC Metropolitan Police:

We’re Trying to Avoid Having Officers in Large Groups

The coronavirus testing for our first responders, I don’t know how that isn’t a priority.

Here are some of the things we’re doing:

  • We pushed out everyone we could on tele-work.
  • We ramped up our telephone reporting, and are doing all of our roll calls outdoors.
  • We’ve pretty much stopped any public meetings of groups with the police; we’re trying to do that remotely.
  • We’re separating our recruits over at the academy. We have eight classes right now, and that’s probably a point of vulnerability, so we’re putting them in different locations and separating them the best we can.
  • It’s the same with our firearms recertification; we’re making the classes smaller and spreading them out.
  • We’re getting pressure on both sides with regard to arrests. We have advocacy groups who don’t want us arresting anybody, and then we have members of the public who still want us to provide police protection. Our courts have closed, so we have to be reasonable. One of the things we did was that our citation and release has been expanded to a number of other crimes.


Volusia County, FL Sheriff Mike Chitwood:

Florida Sheriffs Will Be Looking to Make First Responder COVID-19 Testing a Priority

We need a way to get our first responders getting tested. I have a call this afternoon with the Florida Sheriffs’ Association to see how we can make that a priority in the State of Florida.

And secondly, we’ve fought all weekend to get the Florida Department of Health to give us a list of addresses of people who have the coronavirus and people who are being quarantined, so that information can be loaded into CAD. That way, Fire, EMS, and Police will get a heads-up on the dispatch that it’s Code 19, which means you must take appropriate precautions before responding to that address. I can’t believe that we had to pull teeth to get that information. But we are starting to get it now.


PERF/National Police Foundation/Major Cities Chiefs Association online briefing today about COVID-19

Remember to sign up for the COVID-19 briefing hosted by PERF, the National Police Foundation, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association today from 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern time.

At this briefing, we will hear from two CDC officials who can answer your questions about medical issues and the COVID-19 threat. And we’ll have police executives from two jurisdictions that have been among the hardest hit so far by the coronavirus: Chief Cherie Harris of Kirkand, WA and Deputy Commissioner Robert Gazzola of New Rochelle, NY.

If you have questions for any of our speakers or topics you would like them to address, please let us know today by responding to this email. We will share that information with speakers before the briefing.

Advance registration is required for this briefing. To register, click here.

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