Responding to COVID-19

This page has up-to-date resources for law enforcement officials how agencies are responding to the threat posed by COVID-19, as well as more general guidance from PERF and the federal government. Click on the links below to jump ahead to each section. 

If you have information you would like to share with PERF, please email it to James McGinty at [email protected].

 

PERF Daily COVID-19 Reports

PERF is sending its members daily updates about agencies' responses to the COVID-19 outbreak. Click on the links below to view past editions of the daily report.

Click here to view PERF's Daily Critical Issues Report, which cover current issues other than COVID-19.

 

 

How Agencies Are Responding

Personal Safety Precautions

All agencies are taking additional safety precautions, such as providing additional personal protective equipment and instructing officers on steps they can take to keep themselves safe, such as properly washing their hands, cleaning surfaces regularly, and avoiding close contact with others. 

The Multnomah County, Oregon Sheriff's Office developed FAQ briefings for its law enforcement, corrections, and support staff. These briefings cover some basic information about the virus, how employees can protect themselves, and how they should handle common on-the-job scenarios.

Metropolitan Nashville Chief Steve Anderson produced a video for his officers featuring Dr. Corey Slovis, M.D., Chairman of Emergency Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. In the video, Dr. Slovis answers police-specific questions about COVID risks and precautions.

Agencies are reminding officers about proper safety precautions as frequently as they can. The Topeka, Kansas Police Department has programmed this message to pop up on their officers' mobile data terminals multiple times per day:

Caution:

  • Please use hand sanitizer or wash your hands when having direct physical contact with anyone.
  • Practice social distance whenever possible.
  • Please wipe down your patrol car before and after your shift.
  • If you have any symptoms or not feeling well, contact your supervisor immediately.

 

Suspending training

Many agencies are suspending in-service training for additional manpower and to avoid grouping officers together in a confined space.

Agencies are also suspending or changing procedures in recruiting training classes to reduce risk. The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center have all suspended their classes. The Camden County, NJ Police Department sent its academy class home and is now instructing the recruits online. The Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department has multiple classes in the academy, so it's keeping them apart from each other as much as possible to limit potential exposure.

The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) is updating changes to state law enforcement academies on its website

  

Suspending or Adjusting Roll Call Briefings

Some agencies, like the Green Bay, Wisconsin Police Department are suspending in-person roll call briefings to avoid convening groups of officers. Others, like the Chandler, Arizona Police Department, Gloucester Township, New Jersey Police Department, and the DeKalb County, Georgia Police Department, are holding roll call briefings outdoors, where it's less likely officers will spread the virus to each other. 

For other meetings, agencies are encouraging employees to conduct meetings via conference call or video chat, rather than in person, whenever possible.

 

Limiting Public Access to Police Facilities

Many agencies are shutting off public access to police stations and other police facilities to limit in-person interactions with the public and keep potential carriers of the virus out of police buildings. If a member of the public needs to meet with someone at a police station, someone can meet them in the lobby or in front of the building.

 

Limiting Police Access to Certain Facilities 

Some agencies are limiting employees' access to certain police facilities where they may be more likely to spread the virus. For example, the Oakland Police Department and Fort Lauderdale, Florida Police Department have closed all department gyms.  

 

Limiting In-Person Responses

Many agencies are directing officers to avoid handling calls in-person whenever possible, instead encouraging community members to report lower-level issues online or over the phone. 

When possible, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department is responding by phone instead of in-person to non-emergency and non-violent calls where the perpetrator is not present. Calls that may receive this alternative response include:

  • Non-injury minor vehicle crashes that are not blocking a roadway where there is no disturbances between drivers, no driver impairment, and no vehicles that have to be towed;
  • Lost property (wallet, purse, phone, etc.), excluding firearms or narcotics;
  • Identity theft with no physical evidence to collect;
  • Thefts from a publicly accessible space, including shoplifting, and thefts from yards, construction sites, public storage facilities and detached garages where the perpetrator is not present, the loss is less than $5,000, and there is no recoverable evidence at the scene;
  • Thefts FROM vehicles, excluding firearms, where there is no recoverable evidence at the scene;
  • Vandalism or damage to property where the perpetrator is not present and the loss is less than $5,000.

Likewise, the Wauconda, Illinois Police Department has issued the following guidance:

Wauconda Police officers will only be responding to high priority/emergency calls. The definition of a high priority/emergency call will include, but are not limited to; motor vehicle crashes, forcible felonies, batteries or domestic disputes (either in progress or where the offender is still on scene), burglaries where evidentiary items need to be collected or the scene needs to be processed, any other violent crime or crime against persons, or where the shift supervisor deems it necessary.

When officers do have to respond in person, they are being encouraged to take steps to limit contact. For example, the Naperville, Illinois Police Department is recommending officers take reports on their cell phones at a distance or ask people to step outside their homes or businesses. And, during traffic stops, the department suggests that officers try to collect an individual's information without touching their driver's license. Similarly, the Marshfield, Wisconsin Police Department is encouraging officers to communicate with victims and complainants outdoors on calls when entry into a building is unnecessary.

 

Limiting Enforcement Actions

Many agencies are discouraging arrests for low-level offenses to avoid introducing new people to jails. For example, the Rockford, Illinois Police Department has issued this guidance:

Officers are to issue a Notice To Appear and not perform a custodial arrest for misdemeanor crimes.  There may be exceptions to this and officers should contact a supervisor if this arises.

Agencies are also encouraging their officers to have fewer proactive interactions. The South Burlington, Vermont Police Department has instructed officers that, "Proactive motor vehicle enforcement is limited to instances of more serious violations observed by Officers." And the Gloucester Township, New Jersey Police Department has told officers that, "Pedestrian contacts and stops will only be conducted when necessary for public safety or caretaking purposes."

The Oakland Police Department has stopped towing vehicles, except for evidence or due to exigent circumstances, to limit exposure to towing companies.

 

Providing Guidance on Good Decision-Making

The Burlington, North Carolina Police Department created a COVID-19 version of PERF's Critical Decision-Making Model (CDM) to guide officers' response during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their guidance uses the same structure as the standard CDM, with specific recommendations on applying the five steps of the CDM to the COVID-19 response.

 

Suspending In-Person Community Engagement Programs

To limit face-to-face interactions with the community, many agencies are suspending in-person community engagement programs. This includes programs like citizens police academies, ride-alongs, facility tours, in-person community meetings, and police explorers. 

 

Encouraging Employees to Work Remotely

Agencies are encouraging any employees to work remotely when possible. While this isn't possible for patrol officers and many other positions, some employees, such as detectives and support staff, are able to work away from the office. 

 

Modifying Schedules for Key Personnel

Tempe, Arizona Chief Sylvia Moir has instituted a 50/50 work plan for certain specialized units, like the Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Threat Mitigation units. The 50/50 work plan ensures that specialized personnel are not all working with each other, reducing the probability that all will be exposed to the virus at once. The department is also holding command staff meetings over the phone and putting assistant chiefs on a 50/50 work plan to avoid exposing the entire senior leadership team to the virus at the same time.

Similarly, the Norwood, Massachusetts Police Department has split its command staff into two groups, half of whom work at home one week, and half of whom work at home the other week.

 

Keeping Employees Separated

To reduce the spread of the virus within the workforce, the Janesville, Wisconsin Police Department has implemented the following plan to keep its employees separated:

  • Opened two police substations in local schools. Two separate teams of officers work exclusively out of the two substations.
  • Developed two work teams that work at two separate offsite locations and do not report to the police department or offer field responses.
    • Team 1 works in support of police operations to include; domestic violence, CIT, COVID, addictions and teleserve.
    • Team 2 works on forward thinking, proactive and problem solving work that analyzes problem locations and problem people. The goal is to reduce calls for service and preserve police resources.
  • Separated the police department into two physical work zones. Patrol stays in one zone and detectives, street crimes and records stay in another.

Janesville Chief David Moore says the separation plan will dramatically decrease employees' potential exposure to the virus. 

 

Employee Physical Wellness

Agencies are paying close attention to their employees' health, to prevent the virus from spreading through their workforce and to get ill employees the medical attention they need. Employees are being told to stay home if they show any sign of illness, and some agencies have put additional measures in place. The Gwinnett County, Georgia Sheriff's Office is testing all personnel entering their facilities with a infrared thermometer. The Miami Police Department has screening stations at all its police districts. Employees must pass through the screening stations before coming to work, and employees are issued a colored wristband to show that they've been cleared. And the Chicago Police Department is keeping its medical office open 24 hours a day, rather than the usual 8 hours a day, to better track the health of its officers.

 

Employee Emotional Wellness

This is a stressful time for everyone, including officers and other law enforcement employees. Chiefs and sheriffs are taking steps to support their officers and assure them that the agency is invested in their well-being.

Evesham, New Jersey Chief Chris Chew is sending a member of his department's wellness committee to every roll call to answer questions, provide support, and address any concerns. The department is also sharing guidance on how parents may want to discuss the COVID-19 coronavirus with their children.

Miami Chief Jorge Colina is communicating directly with his employees through regular video updates that inform them of new procedures and explain the department’s response to COVID-19. The Miami Police Department also has its peer support team calling isolated employees daily to check in with them.

Tucson Chief Chris Magnus has sent out a similar video update and a Q&A memo explaining TPD’s response, addressing potential concerns, and telling employees about some of the changes they might expect moving forward.

And Tempe Chief Sylvia Moir is encouraging her employees to practice meditation to alleviate stress.

 

Travel Restrictions

Many agencies are cancelling most or all employee business travel. Agencies are also taking precautions with employees who travel to other countries. For example, the Bradenton, Florida Police Department is requiring any employees who travel to countries classified as "Level 3" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay home for 14 days before returning to work. 

 

Reassigning Officers Stationed at Schools and Courthouses

With many schools and courthouses closed, officers who worked at those buildings can be reassigned to other roles. The Naperville, Illinois Police Department has assigned SROs to assist with phone or online reporting, and the Charleston County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Office has both its courthouse officers and SROs helping out with phone reporting.

Agencies that have suspended other activities, such as in-service training and in-person community engagement events, should have personnel who can be reassigned to other tasks.

 

Accommodations for Working Parents

With many schools closing, parents who work for law enforcement agencies may have a difficult time making childcare arrangements, so some agencies are trying to find ways to be accommodating. The Bradenton, Florida Police Department has encouraged parents with childcare issues to apply for the "Alternate Police Response," which was established to reduce the agency's in-person contacts by responding to some lower-level calls over the phone.

 

Standard Operating Procedures

The following are examples of full policies and procedures agencies have established:

 

 

PERF Publications

The following PERF publications are available:

Law Enforcement Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies (2010)

This series of three reports was developed to improve the law enforcement response to public health emergencies. Communication and Public Health Emergencies: A Guide for Law Enforcement helps agencies develop an internal and external crisis communications plan. Benchmarks for Developing a Law Enforcement Pandemic Flu Plan guides police officials through the process of preparing a continuity of operations plan. The third report, A Guide to Occupational Health and Safety for Law Enforcement Executives, helps agencies institute safety and wellness programs that can be utilized before, during, and after a public health emergency.

 

Police Planning for an Influenza Pandemic: Case Studies and Recommendations from the Field (2007)

This Critical Issues in Policing report features case studies of preparations for an influenza pandemic in four agencies: the Fairfax County, Virginia Police Department; the Toronto Police Service; the Overland Park, Kansas Police Department; and London Metropolitan Police Service. The report also includes a summary of recommendations from the field.

 

The Role of Law Enforcement in Public Health Emergencies: Special Considerations for an All-Hazard Approach (2006)

This report discusses how to prepare an agency for a public health emergency, and steps that should be taken to protect officers and the public.

 

Additional Resources

CDC's law enforcement-specific guidance about the COVID-19 coronavirus
 
CDC's guidance, updated April 8, for law enforcement personnel who may have been exposed to COVID-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
CDC's page for general information about the COVID-19 coronavirus
 
Department of Homeland Security: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
DHS's page for information about its response to COVID-19
Guidance from HHS about how HIPAA applies to disclosures about COVID-19 to first responders
 
The World Health Organization's recommendations for the general public
INTERPOL released guidelines for international law enforcement agencies as they respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus
 
The White House's guidelines for the general public on slowing the outbreak
 
DOJ Office for Victims of Crime: Vicarious Trauma Toolkit for Law Enforcement
DOJ's guidance on improving law enforcement agencies' response to vicarious trauma
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Manage Anxiety & Stress
CDC's recommendations for managing anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
National Police Foundation: COVID-19 Law Enforcement Impact Dashboard
The National Police Foundation, with the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation and Esri, developed this dashboard to track officer exposures, diagnoses, workforce impacts, and personal protective equipment (PPE) needs and projections.

 

Officer Wellness Resources

This list of resources was compiled with assistance from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

The VALOR Officer Safety APP promotes mental and physical preparation for officers. Available via Apple App Store or Google Play
 
Bulletproof offers anonymous and confidential access to health and wellness initiatives, support, information and resources. Their 24-hour confidential support line can be reached at (800) 273-8255.
 
1st Help offers quick access to resources based on a range of topics, including mental health for LE. Officers go to the website, answer a few questions, then access a database of information. Additionally, they will ship free resource cards to any individual or department that would like to hand them out. 
 
Copline offers 24/7 trained peer support and referrals for continued assistance. Their 24-hour confidential support line is 800-COPLINE (800-267-5463).
 
Safe Call now is a confidential 24-hour crisis referral service for public safety and emergency services personnel. Their 24-hr confidential support line is (206) 459-3020.
 
Armor Up is connected to the Safe Call Now 24-hour hotline, and also offers prevention, training and education related to trauma.
 
The Lifeline provides 24-hour, free, confidential support for people in distress. To access it, call 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).