May 11, 2020


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


Policing in COVID-19 Hot Spots

In this issue of Daily COVID-19 Report, PERF focused on police agencies in areas that are having outbreaks of COVID infections or deaths, or are considered likely to have outbreaks soon.  Communities with high COVID rates include those with meatpacking plants and others that are near Native American reservations.  

  • COVID infection rates of meatpacking workers are among the highest in the nation. At one plant in Iowa, for example, 58% of the workforce has tested positive. And companies cannot reduce operations at will; plants that have shut down have been told to resume operations as soon as possible or risk “further action” under the Defense Production Act.
  • In New Mexico, Native Americans make up less than 10% of the population, but more than one-third of COVID-19 cases.

The danger of COVID infections in meatpacking plants and other high-risk facilities spreads into nearby communities, because employees who become infected bring the virus into their homes and other locations.

Photo: U.S. Government Accountability Office

Key Takeaways

  • Police can take an important role in breaking down language barriers with immigrant populations.  A large number of meatpacking plant employees are recent immigrants who have limited English language proficiency. Some police agencies are helping to conduct outreach in residents’ native languages to make sure they understand public health guidance and executive orders. This can strengthen ties with community members while helping to solve a major community problem.
  • Working with industry leaders.  Police can develop connections with meatpacking plant officials to help find ways for companies to act responsibly, as public health is an essential element of a safe environment for all.
  • Protective measures are extremely important in hot spots. Police and sheriffs’ offices in hot spots should be diligent about cleaning, wearing protective equipment, and quickly testing potentially infected employees. With these precautions, agencies in hot spots have avoided outbreaks among their patrol officers.


Salisbury, Maryland:  Working to Help Haitian and Hispanic Poultry Plant Workers

Assistant Chief David Meienschein:

We are one of the nation’s leading poultry producers, and we have a large Haitian and Hispanic population, a majority of whom work in that industry. We’ve been working with community leaders and the health department to communicate with the Haitian and Hispanic communities.

Chief of Police Barbara Duncan:

Our city administrator just held a discussion with myself and more than 50 other stakeholders, including the health department, the local medical center, the faith-based community, food services, housing representatives, various businesses, and our regular outreach groups. The goal of that group is to put together a logic model to ensure that our Haitian and Hispanic communities are as healthy as possible and receive up-to-date medical information, both now and in the future.

The police department definitely has a role in this. We will be assisting partner groups in developing this model and delivering services to these two groups. We’re excited about this process and hope to see our number of positive cases start dropping.

In both these communities, fear of government is tangible. So this puts us in a position to form coalitions with leaders in these communities, strengthen relationships, and be seen in a different light.

For example, when the governor ordered Marylanders to wear masks out in public and at grocery stores, I immediately started getting phone calls asking what we would do if a member of the Hispanic or Haitian community attempted to go into a grocery store without a mask, because they didn’t have the language skills to understand the executive order. We translated information about these executive orders and gave them to our police officers to make sure everyone knew about the new regulation. So we took an education approach, not an enforcement approach.

These sorts of steps will expand on the work we’ve done in the past in building strong relationships with our community members.


Sioux City, Iowa Chief Rex Mueller:

COVID Ripped Through My Command Offices and Professional Standards Division

Meatpacking is one of the major industries in Woodbury County and nearby Dakota County, Nebraska, and that industry has led to a very rapid increase in the number of cases in our area. The industry has very close working conditions.

One of the issues is the language barrier. A lot of the meatpacking plants seek out foreign nationals to work. Many don’t speak English, so it can be difficult communicating the need to self-isolate. The state of Iowa is now doing public information campaigns about social distancing in multiple languages.

We worry about these outbreaks impacting our patrol ranks, but it actually happened differently for us. COVID ripped through two of my administrative offices at police headquarters: the command offices and our professional standards division. It literally touched everyone in those offices, including me.

Since then, we haven’t had any in our patrol rank impacted, but we had serious concerns about continuity of leadership and having command staff present to make big decisions. So it was the opposite of what we feared when the pandemic began.

We decided to take a very transparent approach to reporting our positive cases to the community.

I’ve been surprised by the reaction of not only the community, but also the fire department and jail staff. People were isolating themselves from our entire department, even though the cases were confined to administrative personnel and we didn’t have any patrol or detectives who had tested positive. They didn’t want us in their fire stations or in their jails. We were suddenly seen as the biggest threat to our fellow first responders.

Woodbury County, where Sioux City is located, has a very progressive public health department. They increased testing early on, so we had a lot more positive test results than counties that weren’t pushing for testing. So we may be a hot spot, but I think it’s because of our ability to test and the presence of the meatpacking industry, which is having a huge problem with transmission among its employees.


Grand Island, Nebraska Capt. Jim Duering:

We’re Working with a Meatpacking Company and Hospital to Issue Health Messages in Multiple Languages

The meatpacking industry is our largest employer, and English is a second language for a lot of people here. I think those are the causal factors that explain why our cases ramped up as quickly as they did.

We partnered with JBS Swift, which is the big nearby meatpacking plant, and the local hospital to issue press releases, video PSAs, and audio PSAs in multiple languages and push those out to local media and via social media.

We’ve also been issuing about seven times more tests per capita than some of the surrounding counties, which impacts the numbers as well.

Grand Island has roughly 50,000 people, and our agency has 82 sworn officers. The only case in our agency was in our code compliance unit, and we believe that person picked it up while working as a TSA agent at the airport.

We’re taking the same measures other agencies are taking to sanitize cars and workspaces. Our building maintenance staff sanitizes doorknobs and other surfaces a minimum of five times a day. Our patrol staff was already on offsetting 12-hour shifts, so once we did away with group roll calls, they were segmented into four sections.

Early on, testing was not readily available here, and it was taking 6-11 days to get results. Now we have test results for first responders back in 24-36 hours and other members of the public within 5-6 days.


Farmington, New Mexico Chief Steve Hebbe:

We’re Consulting with the Navajo Nation

Farmington has about 45,000 people, and we have an authorized strength of 135 sworn officers. We’re the biggest city in the Four Corners area, so we’re a destination for shopping and entertainment. We’re also right on the border of Navajo Nation, which has had an outbreak of COVID-19.

Many people there rely on smaller clinics, and those clinics were getting contaminated and then people spread it to others there. We have a good relationship with the Navajo Police Department, and we’ve been consulting with them about ways we can help.

We haven’t had any positive tests in our department. Some of that is luck, but we’ve taken steps like moving to virtual briefings and stopping our in-person staff meetings. Our fire chief is the operation manager for this event, and we have a good working relationship with the fire department. We’re also doing a good job of sharing information with other smaller agencies near us.


Providence, RI Chief Hugh Clements:

Our Outbreak May Be Due in Part to Large Extended Families Living Together

Providence is one of the more densely populated cities in the country, with a population over 100,000, so I think our outbreak has to do with communal living. We often have large extended families living in close quarters.

Our governor and mayor first issued executive orders on March 13 with restrictions on restaurants and drinking establishments, and we were very aggressive about enforcing those regulations at the beginning. Within a couple of weeks, we shifted to trying to find out where the contact transmissions were occurring. We don’t have any large industry, so we believe the answer is communal living.

We have 500 sworn and civilian staff, and less than 3% of our workforce has tested positive. We had a couple of early cases, and we were very careful about quarantining individuals. As soon as we had a positive test result, those officers made a list of their contacts, and we had those people self-quarantine for 14 days. We’re now finally down to zero people in quarantine.

We’ve had significant decreases in crime. We’ve had smaller reductions for several years in a row, and last year we had a huge dip in gang crime, shootings, and homicides, so I think we’re still riding some of that wave. Since the coronavirus hit, we’re down about 50% in all violent crime categories and about 30% in property crime categories. The only call category that is up is dispersals, which are up 75% due to the mayor’s order that limits gatherings. 


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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