May 8, 2020


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


Interview with NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller

Today’s COVID-19 Report is an interview with John Miller, who has served since 2014 as the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism.

No one has had a career remotely similar to John Miller’s.  He has alternated between high-ranking positions in journalism and federal and local law enforcement agencies, including:

  • Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, NYPD under Commissioner William Bratton, 1994-95
  • Commanding Officer of the LAPD’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, 2003-05
  • Assistant Director of the FBI, where he headed public affairs and community outreach, 2005-2011
  • Senior Correspondent for CBS News and earlier, reporter for ABC News, where in 1998 he interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and in 2001 covered the 9/11 attacks
  • Winner of 11 Emmys as well as other journalism awards.

Miller has been a good friend to PERF for many years. He participates in PERF conferences and regularly teaches classes at PERF’s Senior Management Institute for Police.  His SMIP presentation on Crisis Management with former Commissioner Bill Bratton is one of the most popular classes, and he has helped prepare many future police chiefs to handle critical incidents.

In the following interview, John discusses his bout with the COVID-19 virus, and provides analysis of crime patterns and terrorism threats related to COVID-19.  

At the Lenox Hill Hospital Emergency Room           

Wexler:  First, how are you?  Have you ever faced any illness like COVID?

John Miller:  No, I haven’t, and I wouldn’t recommend it to my friends. It sneaks up on you. First you think, “Well, it might be a cold.” Then you think, “All right, this is worse than I thought.” And the next thing you know, you can be in crisis.

My wife had enough common sense to call the doctor and say, “I don’t like what I’m seeing here.” She basically forced me to go to the hospital.  A few days later, while I was in a respiratory crisis in the hospital, I realized that this would have been much worse if I didn’t have medical professionals managing it as I went through it.

Wexler:  At first you probably were thinking, “I don’t need to go to the hospital. I’ll be fine.”

John Miller:  That’s exactly what I was thinking: “There’s sick people in the hospital. They need care more than I do. This thing will pass.” That may have been the case, but looking back at how things went in the hospital, I don’t think it would’ve passed.

Wexler:  When did this occur?

John Miller:  This was in about mid-March. We learned about the existence of the coronavirus in mid-January. Like everyone else, we were thinking, “It’s in China. It’s contained. Let’s keep watching it.” At some point in February we started doing weekly briefings with our medical director as we kept an eye on it and saw the first case in the United States. Of course, it ramped up from there.

I was sick for 10 days before I went into the hospital, then spent five days in the hospital. And the only reason I got out of the hospital that early was that I was able to arrange to have oxygen at home. 


Impact of COVID-19 on the NYPD

Wexler:  Have you ever seen anything like the COVID crisis impacting the NYPD?

John Miller:  Every time I say to myself, “Wow, I’ve seen everything now,” it turns out to be wrong. I said that after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, only to see 9/11 follow years later. I said it after 9/11, only to see Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

We had done tabletop exercises about a pandemic. Charlie Connolly from Major Cities Chiefs and NEIA ran a pandemic exercise called “Thinking about the Unthinkable.” We all had to talk about what would happen if disease swept across the nation, if cops weren’t coming to work because they were worried about catching it and needed to protect their families, if emergency services were pressed to enforce sections of the health code.

Frankly, we all played the tabletop seriously, but a lot of people thought, “This is very unlikely to happen. We should be practicing for a bombing, or an active shooter, or something else we know is going to happen eventually.” But It turned out Charlie Connolly was right. We’re having a full-on pandemic.

So no, the NYPD hasn’t seen anything like this. Here are the mechanics of it. We’re the police. We’re not the ambulance service, we’re not the fire department, we’re not the medical professionals, we’re not the health department. But the law is very clear that once the health department invokes special powers and imposes conditions, and once the mayor or governor issues executive orders using extraordinary powers, the people who are called on to enforce that are the police.

So we’ve done 13,000 business inspections, checking whether they belong open or closed, whether people are spaced out as much as they should be, whether customers are lined up six feet apart. We’ve issued over 800 summonses and made a small number of arrests.

We had Ebola in 2014, but the numbers were very small. Our job was mostly tracking people down for the health department and securing scenes that needed to be cleaned. This is altogether different.


Impact on Crime Patterns

Wexler:  What crime patterns are you seeing in New York City?

John Miller:  The good news is that in March and April we’ve seen the lowest numbers of index crimes in the modern CompStat era. But here’s the trick. New York is a city of 8.6 million people, and probably 8.3 million of them have been locked down at home. So the idea that any crime is occurring at all is something of an anomaly. Statistically, if you consider the actual population who could be victimized – people who are out and about, or crimes committed in the home – it’s very small numbers.

We have had an increase of more than 50% in auto theft, because people are locked down and haven’t been moving their cars. So the cars have been sitting out there a long time, and the car boosters have had opportunity without a lot of people on the street.

We’ve also seen burglaries go up almost 40%, because businesses are closed all the time. The people who would be there late at night – the cleaning staff and porters – aren’t in there now. We’ve seen some exotic burglaries – pros who come in through the roof and get into the safe. But by and large, it’s been people kicking in the glass on a door or window and just grabbing what they can – cash, iPads, cigarettes.

The district attorneys’ offices are all operating on skeleton crews. We have five DAs in New York City and each one has a different policy on cases. They are operating with very small teams due to the coronavirus and trying to dispense with any minor cases, but some of the streamlining has given us concerns. In Brooklyn for instance, we are routinely seeing people being arrested with guns being released on their own recognizance. We are seeing those same people later as shooting suspects or shooting victims. A large percentage of them were already on parole when they were arrested and cut loose. We are seeing burglars caught in the act being released routinely. We arrested one individual four times in April. We arrested him once a week for a whole month! Partly because of COVID-19 fast tracking of releases and partly because of the new bail reform laws, it’s becoming a real challenge to hold people who are career criminals, even when you know they will likely reoffend not long after they’re released.  

It’s been frustrating, because the officers on the street have done very good work to make these arrests. Last week, my team alone took 41 guns off the street. The NYPD has taken more than 1,000 guns off the street so far this year. The police are out there catching burglars, robbers, and people with guns. But it’s been a real challenge with the criminal justice system consciously trying to reduce the jail population.  


Terrorism Threats Related to COVID-19

Wexler:  What types of terrorism are you worried about?

John Miller:  Right now, the terrorists are trying to figure out where they fit into this crisis. We’ve never been through this before, and neither have they. So they’re trying to figure out where their victims might be if everyone is off the street. They see that potential victims are already in the hospitals and wonder if they should attack critical infrastructure like the USNS Comfort, the hospital ship that was docked on the West Side for weeks. Do they attack emergency rooms?

ISIS, in basically an editorial in one of its publications, called for terrorists to do more, saying, “Imagine if we just use the simple tactics that we’ve used in London and Paris.” They’re talking about edged weapons and car ramming, which are very low-tech and very low-cost. They said, “If we do this now in the West, where their hospitals are overflowing and they’re gripped with disease and fear, imagine the impact that would have.” So we’re watching conventional terrorism very, very closely. We have kept our uniformed counterterrorism officers in their regular jobs, even when we had over 5,000 officers out sick.

The white nationalist groups, the neo-Nazi groups, and the far-right groups have been engaged in the same discussions, where they’re trying to figure out, “What do we do here?” They’re largely American citizens, they live here, and their families are here. We’ve seen discussions among these groups about whether COVID-19 is a government conspiracy, whether they should fight government orders on closing businesses or home quarantine. Just last week we saw a militia leader call on followers protesting COVID-19 restrictions  to bring their assault weapons to a demonstration at the Colorado State Capitol building. Based on a tip, the FBI found four pipe bombs in his house. These are concerning indicators to me.  

So while a lot of types of crime have been quiet, our counterterrorism unit has had its hands full watching the propaganda.



Wexler:  What about cybercrime and fraud?

John Miller:  Since the boom of computers, there hasn’t been a crisis that cybercriminals haven’t tried to exploit. We’ve seen complex frauds where cyber actors in foreign countries are pretending to be major distributors of personal protective equipment, trying to make deals with cities and hospital networks for $2-3 million to deliver products that are defective or don’t exist.

We’ve also seen individual operators in Nigeria who claim to have hacked your computer and gotten all your personal information, and they threaten to use that information to infect you and your family with the coronavirus if you don’t come up with $4,000 in bitcoin.

We’ve seen the full range, from highly sophisticated frauds by very slick operators to real amateur-hour stuff that, if you do at a high enough volume, you can find some takers.

Wexler:  Thanks, John. 


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Please click here to let us know about any changes you’ve made to your volunteer or Reserve Officer programs due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Responses may be used in a future edition of our Daily COVID-19 Report.


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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