For today’s COVID-19 Report, Chuck Wexler interviewed police officials from three cities that are experiencing spikes in COVID-19 infections:  Denver, Wichita, and Lincoln, NE.  Nationwide, daily COVID-19 infections have nearly doubled since November 1.  Deaths and hospitalizations also are increasing. Midwestern states currently are experiencing the largest increases.  

Key Takeaways 

-- “COVID fatigue” is often cited as a possible cause of spikes in infection rates. Even in cities and states with relatively strict rules on public gatherings and mask-wearing, individuals may be expanding the circle of friends with whom they socialize. 

-- Hospitals are crowded, which is worrying in light of projections that the October-November “new wave” may worsen in coming months. 

-- Crimes are increasing in various patterns. One likely cause that is often cited is the release of jail and prison inmates in order to reduce the spread of COVID in those facilities.  

-- There are concerns about juvenile offenses, as well as general harm to children’s educational achievements because of the limitations of COVID.  

-- Anti-police attitudes continue to be a concern, even though George Floyd demonstrations may be abating.  

Source:  New York Times 


Wichita, KS Chief Gordon Ramsey 

When COVID started, I was watching sick leave and looking for patterns, to see if certain units were having infections. And our sick rate was actually lower than normal. We have over 900 employees, and fewer than 10 were out sick over the first 10 weeks.   

Up until mid-October, we had 9 positive tests among our employees and we were under a 5% positive test rate in the city. But yesterday, we were at a 23% positive test rate and had 74 members of our staff out, either because they’re COVID-positive or they have symptoms. Last week we had over 100 out.   

I think a lot of people let their guard down, and then it came on like a tsunami over the last few weeks.  

We could see there was some spreading occurring in two units: training and property crimes. But the majority seems to be coming from exposures outside of work.   

Our hospitals are overloaded. In mid-October we were taking people from Texas. Now it sounds like were starting to move people out of our hospitals.   

We used some of our COVID money to buy everybody cellphones with access to data. I had been trying to find money for that over the last few years. Thats helping them be more effective as theyve been working at home.   

I thought wed have waves over the summer during the protests when officers were in close quarters, but we didnt see any uptick at all until the last few weeks.   

I think after what has happened in the last month, our officers understand how real this is and how easy it is to become infected. Were still encouraging our folks to conduct briefings outside and stay out of houses and apartments, as we did initially. Were trying to remind and educate our cops, but the reality is that the job is tough and sometimes theyre not going to have their mask. But the public is quick to snap a picture of them when they dont have their masks on. So we remind them of the importance to lead by example, but Ive been hesitant to be too critical because of the tough year theyve had.    

When we initially went on lockdown, I noticed there was an increase in drive-by shootings. Our violent crime has skyrocketed. Were close to a record year for homicides.   

Our courts are so far behind, and theres no doubt in my mind that that is playing a big role in the violent crime increases were seeing. Im concerned that the courts are going to close again and were going to get further behind.   

Our jail had a major COVID outbreak in June and July, so they were trying to get people out of there and keep people out. There are a number of felony cases  waiting to be charged by the district attorney.   

Youth sports seasons have been cancelled. Weve seen a significant increase in graffiti and vandalism, and I think its because kids have idle time.   

As the crime goes up, people are looking at the cops asking what were going to do about it. But theyre not talking about the fact that probation hasnt been doing home visits. Theyre not talking about the fact that hundreds of felony cases are sitting untouched, waiting to be charged.  Im concerned the current COVID wave is going to put us further behind and exacerbate the violent crime increase were seeing.   

The other concern is whats happening to kids who arent in school. Many are unsupervised, not getting the education they need, and falling behind. Im worried about their education and how that will play out in the years ahead. There werestudies done in New Orleans after schools were closed down for six months or more after Hurricane Katrina. It showed significant disparities among kids who werent in school during the hurricane recovery, and that stuck with them throughout their educational life. I’m concerned about what that will mean for us in the years to come, because many of our kids have just gotten lost in the system.   


Denver Police Chief, Paul Pazen

Denver, CO Chief Paul Pazen 

Back in the spring, we jumped on COVID pretty quickly and started our COVID response operations on March 2. We started doing virtual roll calls, separating the officers in two-officer cars, building up a stockpile of masks, and taking other measures.   

We certainly have far more people infected today than we did in mid-April, which was our initial high watermark for infections. Fortunately, we know more about the virusnow and have a better understanding of the steps we need to take in response.  

The positive test rate in the city is about 11%, which is the highest it has been. Just four weeks ago we were under 5%. The hospitalizations are on par with what we had in April.  

Instead of a total lockdown, the city has done a “home by 10:00” order, which officially started on Sunday. Initially it was going to be called a curfew, but from our perspective, that term has some negative connotations and seems more law enforcement-heavy. We expressed our opinion that this needed to clearly be a public health order and in line with the terminology we used during the first wave, like “safer at home,” so we could get compliance. Were not asking our officers to write a bunch of tickets. We want people to comply.   

As our officers were patrolling in the evening hours, both to deal with the ongoing protests and in the rest of the city, we saw a lot of folks hitting the bars and restaurants with little mask usage. We had a protest on Halloween, and I saw hundreds of people out and about when I drove around downtown after that event. I think the driving force is “COVID fatigue,” even if we cant put a strict definition on that. Essentially itlots of people being out and not taking the precautions that were all aware of.  

We even see a little bit of COVID fatigue within our workforce. We had to remind our workforce of how important this is, and they responded accordingly.   

Fewer than 100 of our officers have contracted the virus through our two or three waves, which, from my perspective, is pretty remarkable considering they come in contact with COVID-positive individuals every single day. The majority of our infections actually come from non-work interactions. Family members typically seem to be the vector for infection.  

Around April, we started digging into the crime numbers during the Great Recession of 2007-09, recognizing that there would be an economic downturn with the stay-at-home orders. Back then, we saw increases in shootings, robberies, burglaries, and theft from motor vehicles.  This year we saw a spike in property crimes, business burglaries, and theft from motor vehicles. All our violent crime is up, except for sexual assaults.  

Our county and city jail typically house about 2,200 combined. We dropped that number to 1,000 right off the bat. Similarly, the six counties in our metro area each released about 500 people from their jails.  

Homelessness was another challenge, because many facilities for homeless persons in nearby jurisdictions were staffed with older volunteers. Many of them closed down, just as we opened up large facilities to house hundreds of folks.  

I think our property crime spike is more directly related to the releasing of nonviolent individuals who had been arrested for property crime. Then we saw a dramatic increase in violent crime starting around the time of the George Floyd incident.   

Pre-COVID, there was already a political divide in our country that caused plenty of negative emotions. Then COVID added stress and anxiety as something that could cause great harm to us and our families. Then there was a racial reckoning and civil unrest after the George Floyd situation. And were dealing with an economic downturn. It truly has been the perfect storm of negative emotions, with little in the way of hope, joy, or other positive emotions that could counterbalance that. Weve seen this manifest itself as violent crime.  


Lincoln Police on Twitter: "Congratulations go out to Chris Vigil!  Yesterday he was promoted to LPD sergeant!… "

Lincoln, NE Sergeant Chris Vigil 

Our response started in the beginning of March, when we formed a Coronavirus task force. For all of us it was unprecedented. We had to make operational changes designed to keep our people safe while having a minimal impact on delivery of service.  

We were relatively fortunate in the beginning, which may be because were somewhat geographically isolated. Our figures were really low through the summer.   

Our chief enacted a work-from-home option for our operations staff, which means our uniform patrol. For eight weeks, at least one officer and sergeant were able to work from home for 5-10 days, depending on your schedule. Those officers were taking calls for service that could be handled over the phone, like fraud and theft from auto when there wasnt any evidence to collect. That gave the officers some reprieve and distance, which was a good option for them.   

Support staff were also allowed to work from home if their job allowed them to do that. Our investigations units were decentralized, because normally theyre all in one little area of the department.   

Our mayor allowed city employees to have a newly-created bank of what she called “pandemic leave.” Employees can take four weeks of paid time if they contract the disease, a loved one contracts the disease, or they are having childcare issues stemming from COVID.   

All told, our department has been moderately okay. Weve had 173 employees tested since March. Only 33 have come back positive, but 28 of those have occurred since September 1. So clearly we are in the midst of the spike that everyone else is seeing.   

Were seeing spikes in violent crime and larceny from autos. Drug overdoses are up a lot. Calls for trespassing and mental health issues are up. This has had a discernable effect on peoples mental health. Theres financial hardship among people who have lost jobs or had their hours severely reduced. And kids who were occupied in school for 8 hours a day are now sitting at home with nothing to do. I think COVID just created all these conditions for a higher level of crime.  

We have an extreme increase in assaults on officers. Its hard to say whether thats due to COVID or the national climate after Minneapolis, but I suspect its a combination of everything.  

For a time, we suspended arrest warrants for nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies. They werent eliminated, but they were suspended. Our court system is backed up, and they keep pushing court dates back. I think all this is emboldening criminals.  

Then you add on an extremely polarized environment with anti-police rhetoric. Our patrol officers say that the amount of anti-police vitriol they have to endure every day is astronomical compared to any other point in their careers. That includes officers who have been on the force for 30 years. Theyll be talking to someone on their lawn and have three people drive by swearing at them.


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.