Since PERF last spoke with university police chiefs on July 30, many schools have been managing the return of students to campus. And the United States is currently experiencing a surge in COVID cases, particularly in the Midwest. PERF spoke with police executives at Midwest universities to hear about their experience reopening their campuses and how they’ve been impacted by the recent case increase.

Key Takeaways

-- Universities have established extensive testing programs and have lower test positivity rates than their surrounding communities. Low positivity rates generally indicate that a jurisdiction is conducting enough testing to monitor trends.

-- Even though COVID may not be a police issue, universities are calling on their police departments to be an important part of the response.

-- Many COVID cases at universities have been traced back to off-campus parties, so police agencies and university administrators are working to prevent those from occurring.

-- Working with other administrators and health officials, university police are using data to target COVID hotspots. Schools are using mobile apps and daily health check-ins to screen students and employees.

-- Agencies have not experienced significant outbreaks among police officers and other department employees.

University of Notre Dame Police Chief Keri Kei Shibata

We’ve done 36,539 tests, and our positivity rate for the last seven days is 0.8%. The positivity rate in the county is 5% over the same period. So we’re doing better than the county on positivity.

737 undergraduates, 54 graduate students, and 41 employees have tested positive. There’s an estimated 37 active cases now.

We’ve had two officers get sick. One didn’t have any symptoms other than a low fever on one day. The other one was hospitalized for about a week and was on supplemental oxygen. Both have recovered and are back to work.

There was a period of two weeks when we were seeing an increase in cases and decided to go to online-only classes. That was very effective. They delivered food to the residence halls during those weeks, instead of having the students go out and pick up food. The students mostly stayed in their residence halls.

The cases we were seeing were contact-traced to off-campus parties. We saw a decrease in that kind of activity for a while. Unfortunately, it now seems like there’s a little bit of compliance fatigue, and folks are going back to doing more socializing off campus. But we have definitely seen a difference in behavior compared to the very beginning of reopening. Off-campus parties are much smaller, although there still have been some. And there’s definitely a change in behavior on campus. Everyone is very good about following the rules about distancing, limiting group size, and masking on campus.

All our classes are in person now. They’ve adjusted a number of large spaces to accommodate the distancing that’s required, and they’ve put up barriers in some places. We’re doing a lot of testing. We’ve converted a lot of outdoor spaces to be study and socializing spaces.

Enforcement is mostly handled by student affairs. From the beginning we said that all faculty and staff have a responsibility to help enforce the rules. And enforce means telling people to put their mask on or separate themselves, and if they’re not compliant, refer them to the Office of Community Standards. Our officers have referred folks to the Office of Community Standards, and others around campus have as well.

For the off-campus parties, sometimes we get calls about them and let people know that we don’t respond off campus. And most of the time it’s not for something the South Bend Police Department would respond to, like a disturbance or noise complaint. So most of the time no one is responding to those off-campus parties. We tell people that if they can get names or specific addresses, we’ll refer that to the Office of Community Standards.

If students need to quarantine, we have a number of hotels and on- and off-campus apartment complexes that we rented for that purpose. Students do not stay in their dorms; they are sent to one of these facilities. We ended up putting private security at those locations, because we were hearing that people were not abiding by quarantine and isolation rules. Once we put private security in place, compliance got a lot better in those locations. Our police department managed the relationship with private security.

We have an on-campus testing center. We’re doing antigen and PCR tests. We do both surveillance testing, where students, faculty, and staff are asked to come in and be tested. And if you are contacted by contact tracers or think you need to be tested, you can be tested. Everyone does a daily health check-in, where you go on an app and list any new symptoms or exposures you may have had. If that check-in categorizes you as “yellow,” you may have to get tested. If it’s red, you definitely have to get tested and probably go into quarantine.

It’s more difficult to transmit the virus outdoors, so we’re making outdoor spaces more attractive for students. We’re setting up firepits and nice chairs in small groups that are distanced outside to encourage them to stay on campus. Student affairs has gotten very creative with the different kinds of events they’re hosting to keep students engaged on campus, rather than wanting to go off campus, because their compliance is fairly good on campus.

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Police Chief Kurt Leibold

Wisconsin is not doing well. I think we have the third highest rate of active cases in the country. Our area is neck-in-neck with Green Bay as the leader in the state right now. My campus is in three counties. Winnebago County has had a 35% testing positivity rate over the last seven days. Outagamie County has had a 57% positivity rate among those being tested. And Fond du Lac County is at 17%. Our campus is at 3.5%, so we’re doing well, considering that we’re right in the middle of it.

We have about 12,000 students. 70% of our classes are in person and 30% are online or are some kind of hybrid model.

We realized we had to create our own testing site, because our Student Health Center couldn’t handle it, and we wanted to test as many students as we could. Every resident student is tested every week, so that’s 2,200 a week, or 440 a day. We do antigen and PCR testing. The antigen surveillance testing is the key.

We have contact tracers and disease investigators who were trained by our county public health agency. Our contact tracers are like detectives, and they work just with our college students, faculty, and staff who become infected.

We have an operations center where we analyze all this data. I base this on the way we do police work. When I was in the Milwaukee Police Department, we would identify trends and set up strategic plans to deal with issues. That’s what we do in our operations center every day. We dive into the data and look at how many COVID tests we did, how many tests were positive, and which residence halls and floors were most affected. The idea is to come up with actionable intelligence that we can act on immediately. If we see a 10% positivity rate on any floor, that entire floor is ordered in for testing, or put on notice that they’re a hotspot.

We actively pursue the virus. We did tabletop exercises in the summer anticipating a surge. We had a norovirus outbreak a couple years ago, so we learned from how we handled that. We knew we were going to have a surge at the beginning because college kids came here to socialize as well as receive an education. We brought students back September 2, and by September 17 we were at our high, with 90 students infected per day. The residence halls we converted into quarantine and isolation centers were filling up to capacity.

We knew we had to control fear, because that’s what was going to shut us down. Once the faculty members lose confidence, you have to go online again. We were able to avoid that by explaining that we anticipated this and we would get through it. And we did.

Our latest issue is off campus, with neighborhood parties. We monitor social media and proactively go out to prevent parties from happening. If we have to break up a party of 200, that’s a spreader event. So we try to get to them before it becomes an event.

University of Illinois Assistant Police Chief Barb Robbins

We’ve been doing pretty well. I’m impressed that the police department is so involved in COVID-19 and people are looking to us to help control it. This is not necessarily a police matter, but we are really thick into it.

We have 55,000 students and about 25,000 employees. We have 20 testing sites, and we are testing 13,000 to 17,000 people a day. Right now we have 65 buildings open for in-class instruction.

Our students have apps to use in combination with our testing. You have to get tested twice a week, and some students have to get tested three times a week. When you get tested, your results go to an app on your phone. If you are taking an in-person class, you have to show the app with your negative test result to be allowed into class. There are people checking the students entering all 65 buildings.

Since July, we have tested more than 300,000 faculty members, staff, and students. We had a spike in September among our undergrads, but not our grad students. We put them on a two-week soft lockdown and had them test three times a week.

We have university property and non-university property, and students have been partying in the non-university property. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night we have officers responding to loud music or large parties that people are reporting. We send officers there, and if students are not wearing masks or there are more than 10 people present who don’t live in the house, they get a city ordinance ticket that is sent to student discipline, and there’s a good chance you could be dismissed from the university.

Our highest positivity rate has been in our Greek housing. We’ve had to do a lot of extra work with the Greek houses, including closing a couple of them down.

If students test positive or are being quarantined, they are in a room by themselves in a dorm that has been set aside for that purpose. They get their food delivered so they can stay isolated. We’re following the CDC and State of Illinois guidelines, so if they have to be quarantined, they stay there for 14 days.

We’ve only had two positive cases in our department, and they were both contracted outside the workspace. We’ve altered all our work schedules, so we are actually paying officers to stay home on what we’re calling “COVID days.” They stay at home and are on call, and that’s generally one or two days per week for officers. We do that so the whole shift isn’t here at one time, and if one shift gets sick, we’ll have backup.


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.