May 1, 2020


PERF’s COVID-19 coronavirus resources, including past editions of the Daily COVID-19 Report, are available at


For today’s Daily COVID-19 Report, we spoke with five police chiefs and a sheriff about their efforts to ensure that immigrants are receiving their messages about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Takeaways:

-- The COVID pandemic is fundamentally changing people’s lives, so communication between police and immigrant communities is more important than ever. Police departments and sheriffs’ offices are producing and disseminating videos and other communications in multiple languages to reach immigrant communities about public health measures.

-- Immigrants’ reluctance to be involved with police may increase if they fear that public health measures will be used as a pretext for immigration enforcement.  So police are reassuring immigrant communities that they are interested only in protecting community health and safety.


Chelsea, MA Chief Brian Kyes:

Chelsea Has the Highest COVID Rate in Massachusetts, And I Estimate that 90% May Be Latino Residents

We’re a city of about 40,000, and right now we’ve had over 100 deaths and almost 2,000 cases, which is the highest rate of confirmed COVID cases in the state. It’s more than 16 times the rate for all of Massachusetts.

Our city is about two-thirds Latino. Most come from the Northern Triangle of Central America and are Spanish-speaking.

Looking at the surnames of individuals who are infected, I’d say that probably 90% of them are Latino. That prompts us to ask why it’s happening to that particular group. I think it’s because a lot of people are living in overcrowded housing, often multiple families, 10 people or more living together. We have four sectors in the city, and this is concentrated in just one sector. Our city is one of the most densely populated in the state, and we have many people who work in the service industry and are still out there working. So one person gets infected but may not be showing any symptoms, and the virus spreads through the whole house.  And the members of the household are going to their jobs, and it gets spread further.

Chuck Wexler: How are your officers doing?

Chief Kyes:  There’s no question, they’re anxious. We have about 50 Latino police officers, so I’m going to create a video with one of them to push our message into the Latino community. We have billboards all over the city about social distancing and wearing masks. And, from what I’ve seen, our residents have been incredibly compliant.

Wexler:  And how are you doing?

Chief Kyes:  Well, a week ago I was on a conference call with people talking about the potential for family members getting infected. And while I was on the call, I looked at my phone and saw a message that my oldest daughter wasn’t feeling well. She works over at Boston University. She went and got tested and found that she was positive.  So all sorts of things were running through my mind, and aside from worrying about my daughter, I wondered, what are we going to do? I have another daughter at home and my wife. So for the first two nights, I just stayed at the station here in my office. And then my wife, my other daughter, and I all tested negative. My daughter is starting to feel fine, her symptoms are definitely going away. But we still have to try to make sure we don’t get infected, because I could bring it back to the station.   

Wexler Thank you, Brian.


Ennis, TX Chief Andy Harvey:

We Noticed that Spanish-Speaking Residents Were Not Receiving Our Messages


We posted a video on Facebook in Spanish and English about the importance of social distancing. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and grateful. Our Spanish-speaking community appreciates that we put information out in their language. Over 40% of the community here is Hispanic, and many of them are undocumented and only speak Spanish.

This is a big Facebook town, so we created an account called “Ennis en Español.” We had started by providing information about this crisis only in English, but we realized that we’re really hurting ourselves if we’re not communicating with the majority of our people. So we started translating everything into Spanish and putting it on that page. We know it’s working because people are sharing it with others.

Wexler: Are you seeing any specific health or safety issues with that community?

Chief Harvey: It’s about the lack of information getting to our Spanish-speaking community. For example, we’ll see entire families at the grocery store, when we’ve been putting out the message that families should only send one or two people into the store. So we’re having to catch up in providing them with pertinent information. Since we’ve started doing this, we’ve seen less and less of those kinds of concerns. Once we’ve gotten information to people, they’ve been complying with the rules.


Houston Chief Art Acevedo:

We Heard that Immigrants Were Afraid to Go Outside, So We Provided Them with Masks


Because of the ugly spirit of the debate that’s going on at the national level and the hostility of some of our elected officials towards immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, they were underground, and they went even further underground. So we had to make even more concerted efforts to build trust with this segment of our population, so they wouldn’t be afraid to come forward when they’re victims of domestic violence or some other crime, or a witness to some violent crime.

For example, when the order was given requiring a facial cover, we heard from a church that a number of undocumented immigrants were afraid to come outside because they didn’t have masks. With our union, we provided hundreds of masks to that segment of the population. They had been afraid to go to the mask giveaways or even the food giveaways because of their status.

We had to inform them that immigration status was not something anyone was focusing on. Even the director of ICE said they’re suspending routine enforcement, meaning that unless you’re wanted for crimes other than your immigration status, you were not going to be a target of the federal government.

We’ve communicated through social media in English and Spanish, and also through the show that we created last year. It’s on the radio, Facebook Live, and Periscope, and is called “Comunidad y Confianza” – “Community and Trust.” It’s directed to our immigrant community in Spanish.

Because of those outreach efforts, we feel that we’ve been able to mitigate that fear.


Chapel Hill, NC Chief Chris Blue:

We’re Reassuring Immigrants that COVID Is Not About Immigration Enforcement

We posted a video on Facebook in Spanish on March 27, when our county and municipalities issued a pretty restrictive stay-at-home order. There were a lot of questions about that order throughout our community, and some of our immigrant community contacts told us that there was a concern that enforcement of the stay-at-home order might be used as a pretext to check people’s immigration status. We’ve always said that immigration status isn’t the concern of local law enforcement, but we heard that this was a fear in our immigrant community.

So we quickly put this video together with an iPhone camera, where I introduce myself, then one of our Spanish-speaking officers talks about what the stay-at-home order means and what we would and wouldn’t be doing. The video now has over 84,000 views and has been shared almost 2,000 times. Other videos we make usually get a fraction of those numbers, so it shows that people were hungry for this message.

We’ve since done some additional videos in a number of languages. We’ve had a couple incidents where folks of Asian descent were the target of verbal abuse, so we’ve done videos in Burmese and Karen too.


Hennepin County, MN Sheriff David Hutchinson:

We’ve Worked to Prevent Large Gatherings During Ramadan

Hennepin County has the highest number of Somalis outside East Africa, and the highest number of Hmong outside Southeast Asia. During Ramadan we’ve been really concerned about our Muslim community being in close quarters in the mosques and at iftars. We put out a video about how we’re supporting the community during these difficult times. It includes deputies speaking Spanish and Somali, and we distributed it to all our ethnic communities and the news media. It’s important because immigrants often live with more family members per household, and many members of our Somali community live in high-rises.


Vail, CO Chief Dwight Henninger:

We’ve Worked with Public Health on a Unified Response

Most people in our immigrant community work in restaurants and hotels. With those businesses shut down, they’re in pretty dire economic straits. A lot of money has been directed towards keeping employees around, so that they’ll be there when we’re ready to reopen.

Our Eagle County Law Enforcement Immigration Alliance includes four police departments and the Sheriff’s Office. We put out a letter early on encouraging people to follow appropriate social distancing practices and not hesitate to call us about domestic violence or other crime issues.

I think we’ve had a very effective county coordination group. Public health has been the incident commander on this, and they’ve done a great job leading the charge, and the county emergency management staff has provided great communication to the community in both English and Spanish.

There were some concerns about conflicting messaging. We had a number of groups sending out messages, and they weren’t able to keep up with the rapid changes that were occurring. We’ve now consolidated all that with a working group from the Latino community that is doing all the messaging. Now it’s more like a joint information system, rather than a number of different people all trying to do the right thing.


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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