May 21, 2020


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


For today’s COVID-19 Report, we asked police executives how the COVID pandemic is impacting homicide investigations.

Key Takeaways

--  Agencies are adjusting detectives’ schedules to reduce interactions with other personnel. As with other aspects of police operations, investigations units are changing schedules to limit shift overlap, facilitate social distancing, and reduce the numbers of detectives at work in station houses.

--  If possible, detectives are working from home. In many agencies, detectives are working from home as much as possible. But in some cities, the amount of work that detectives can do from home in limited by a lack of laptop computers and related technology, restrictive collective bargaining agreements, and the need to conduct some interviews in person.

--  Some interviews are being conducted with technology. Detectives are using new methods for some interviews, particularly those with victims and cooperative witnesses, to limit the number of people coming into the police station. Some interviews are being conducted by video chat, over the phone, or recorded on a body-worn camera in the field. Video interviews can be recorded and made a part of case files.

--  Other interviews have to be conducted in person, but in larger rooms and with PPE. Some interviews, particularly those with suspects and uncooperative witnesses, still need to be conducted in-person in the station. For those interviews, detectives are using personal protective equipment and, when possible, moving to a larger room to allow for more social distancing.

--  Protective measures sometimes have a cost.  It can be harder to “read” suspects’ facial expressions during interrogations if they are wearing masks. And interviews of jail inmates (who may have information about open cases) have been sharply curtailed in some cities.


Hampton, VA Chief Terry Sult:

My Detectives Like Using Zoom for Witness Statements

We’ve made several adjustments.

-- We’ve changed the shifts, with half the investigators coming into the office and half working from home, so we can maintain social distancing in the office.

-- A lot of our witness statements are done by Zoom, and  we can record those statements and save them to the case files.

-- Oftentimes in the field we’ll use body-worn cameras to do interviews outdoors. We use standard PPE, and we’re able to get information about the locations of individuals who have had contact with medical personnel about COVID-19, so we can have some notice if a witness may have been exposed to the virus.

-- When we do interviews in person, we use larger conference rooms instead of our smaller interrogation rooms to maintain physical distance.

I asked my detectives about using Zoom for interviews, and they actually like getting witness statements via Zoom. It’s more efficient, and it’s easier to get hold of people. They like being able to record. Of course, it depends on witnesses having the ability and the technology to use Zoom, but it’s pretty straightforward and easy to use.

We typically use Zoom for cooperative witnesses and follow-up interviews. If it’s an uncooperative witness, we would prefer to do that face-to-face in a larger room.

Some of these techniques aren’t unusual in policing. State police agencies often have their agents work from home, particularly in rural areas.

Overall, our efficiency and effectiveness haven’t really changed. We’re just working differently. In some cases, we may be more effective, and certainly more efficient.


Indianapolis Metropolitan Assistant Chief Chris Bailey:

We Scrambled to Get More Technology When 4 Employees Tested Positive

Our investigations are split between two of our divisions – the Operations Division (or uniform patrol division); and the Investigations Division.

We resisted asking our detectives to work from home for as long as we could, for several reasons, including that we had limited technology. Most our detectives were working off desktop computers, not laptops.

Then we had one person in our domestic violence unit get COVID. We shut down the entire unit for about 14 days and spread their caseload out until we could get everyone tested and make sure there was no widespread infection. We had four people test positive, and that really changed our perspective. We asked people to work from home and made arrangements to supply laptops to those who didn’t have them. 

Homicide investigators are trying to treat every case the same way they normally would. When they’re on-scene, they use appropriate PPE gear. They’re interviewing witnesses and suspects in our interview rooms, but everyone has to wear a mask, and rooms are regularly disinfected. Interviews for victims and witnesses of minor crimes, such as burglary and theft, are being done by telephone. But we have to continue to use our interview rooms for felonies, because we don’t have a body-worn camera system and our state requires that those interviews and interrogations be recorded.

We have four different shifts, and we try not to have too many people in the office at the same time. They do a good job of scheduling when they have to be in the office, and otherwise they’re either in the field or working from home.

We’re still canvassing neighborhoods, with appropriate measures like wearing a mask and trying to talk to people from as far away as possible. Sometimes it’s more difficult to change the way we do things, because people may not want to be seen talking to police about murder investigations.

We’re getting ready to figure out a way to get people back into the office. Maybe we’ll bring them in a couple days a week, or spread our shifts out.

We’re working on what that will look like for the rest of the year, because we think there will be some issues with this in the fall, and we want to have a plan in place to keep our people safe and still respond to the citizens of Indianapolis.


Houston Commander Belinda Null:

Masks Are a Barrier to Seeing Suspects’ Facial Expressions

PPE is mandatory for all our employees. We do temperature checks when we come in, and you have to wear a mask in the building. Any citizens we bring in also have to have their temperature checked and wear a mask.

We try to do more interviews outside at off-site locations or over the phone. It has impacted hospital follow-ups and interviews with witnesses or potential suspects in jails. Jail interviews haven’t been completely shut down, but they’re very limited. We have a significant number of positive cases in our jail, so it’s more challenging to sending our investigators in to work with suspects who may have additional information and want to make deals.

Investigators report that the mask is a barrier when conducting interviews, especially interrogations. They can’t see facial expressions, and it’s harder to get people to open up.

The impact on our families is always in the back of our minds. You worry about what you might be taking home to your family. People have changed how they interact before getting out of their uniform or clothes from the day. It definitely weighs on you and your family.


Philadelphia Chief Inspector Frank Vanore:

Our Collective Bargaining Agreement Has Hindered Some Changes

When we locked down around March 16th, we tried to come up with a way to keep officers from exposing each other to the virus. In the detective bureau we thought about dividing everybody into two 12-hour shifts, and we tried to come up with an agreement with the union to allow them to work 12 hours rather than accruing a lot of overtime. It gave them more days off, and officers actually liked the shift. We did that for about a week, but it became too expensive, so we had to go back to our normal shifts. It was a good change, but it just didn’t work with the collective bargaining agreement.

We weren’t really able to have detectives work from home, because of the collective bargaining agreement and because we don’t have the technology for them to work from home. So we’ve tried to space out their hours, but for the most part, we’re just being careful. We’ll have one group work in one part of the building and another group work in another part of the building.

Our detectives in the divisions, who investigate nonfatal incidents, are using body-camera videos to try to avoid bringing in witnesses who don’t have to come in. The detectives are all wearing masks.

Our homicide detectives still bring suspects in, put them in a room, and develop a rapport. The detectives wear N95 masks, and if we can get the suspect to wear a mask, we’ll put it on them.

We’ve had a few detectives get infected. They sat out, recovered, and then came back.


Miami Assistant Chief Armando Aguilar:

We Avoid Going to Hospitals to Check Apparent Natural Deaths

Our homicide unit investigates all deaths, even apparent natural deaths, to rule out any possible foul play. For apparent natural deaths in the hospital, we normally would go to the hospital and examine the body. Now our detectives call the hospital and obtain the information they need over the phone. If the doctor can certify the death, we can avoid an unnecessary trip to the hospital.

We started conducting all our interviews in our Compstat room, which is available because we’re doing Compstat virtually. We have folding tables spaced more than six feet apart and face masks for everybody. We just started allowing interviews to take place in interview rooms again, because we have seen a reduction in cases locally. Social distancing rules and facemasks still apply in the interview room, and goggles are encouraged.

Detectives work from home some days, especially when there are overlapping shifts, to cut down on the number of people in the office.

Whenever possible, we interview witnesses at the scene, instead of bringing them to the station. 


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