For today’s Daily COVID-19 Report, PERF spoke with police officials from three Texas cities – Corpus Christi, Austin, and Irving – about how they are managing the recent increase in COVID cases.

The state experienced an initial wave during the summer, and the current increase started in mid-October.

Source: New York Times

Corpus Christi Chief Mike Markle

We haven’t changed much from our March stance. We quickly ramped up PPE. We have a lot of extra duties and precautions that go along with COVID. Our buildings have stayed shut down to the public, and we conduct more of our business with the public online. Some of our arrests have been curtailed, and we’ve made more use of cite-and-release.  We predicted that this would last throughout 2021, so we ramped up our PPE supplies to get us through that with the mindset that we wouldn’t change our practices until the vaccine was gone and folks were safe. We expected a resurgence and didn’t change how we did things operationally.

Positive cases in the community are going up, but our officer positives have not. They came down significantly after the first wave, after everyone was in the groove with PPE, how to take calls, and when they should and shouldn’t show up to work. We went without a positive for quite some time, and I think we have one or two now out of 700 people in our department. So we’re doing well on that front.

Out in the community, businesses are open to a certain percentage of their occupancy. We’ve developed special teams that go check businesses, speak to management, tell them when they’re doing things right, and let them know when they’re above the occupancy percentages that they’re supposed to be adhering to.

We’ve had park closures and beach closures. We’re a destination city during the warm weather. Nueces County had one of the lowest infection rates in the United States for a period of time. Of course, that was reported by the media, so a lot of people drove here to get away from COVID and enjoy the sun on the beach. It caused a massive spike. So we’ve had to close parks and beaches during parts of the year when a high density of people show up.


We are part of the operational and logistics team that the city has put together for vaccine distribution. Police officers and first responders are in the third tier in Texas, which is toward the front of the line. Line officers, who have the maximum exposure, will be vaccinated first. Hopefully we’ll start being vaccinated within the first couple weeks.

Vaccinations are not mandated, but I think 60 to 70% of our officers will take it. I think some officers are worried that we’re going to force them to get vaccinated, but we can’t do that. At the end of the day, I think a large percentage will want to be vaccinated. We lost a couple personnel at the beginning of this, so I think that’s a motivation to get vaccinated.

Austin Assistant Chief Joseph Chacon

In March we were ramping up and trying to locate stores of PPE to stockpile, because we knew that this was not going to be over quickly. Right at the beginning, we created staffing contingency plans. For instance, if an entire patrol shift goes down with COVID, how are we going to backfill that shift? We put all that into place in the first 3 to 4 weeks.

We peaked, then the decline occurred and it looked like things were going very well. During that time our department experienced very few positive cases. Our positive cases were probably in the low teens, and we have about 1,800 sworn members and about 650 civilians. So we felt like we were doing very well.

Because of the low number of infections, we struggled with getting our officers to actually wear their masks. We had mandated it, but we were receiving complaints from members of the public about officers not wearing their masks. We’re not having that problem anymore. Our officers get it.

To date, 85 sworn members of the department have tested positive. 60 of them have returned to work. 38 civilians have tested positive, 32 of whom have returned to work. We haven’t lost anyone. Some have had to be hospitalized, but all have pulled through, so we’re grateful for that.

In the community, people are very COVID-weary. The governor has started to relax some of the rules, especially as the cases started to decline. We’re working with code enforcement and the fire department in teams, to make sure people are abiding by the rules. We may have a curfew in our city. They’ve already instituted permanent or temporary curfews in Laredo, El Paso, and San Antonio. That would be difficult from an enforcement standpoint, so we’re working with other departments and city management to determine how we would work through that.


We’re not going to mandate the vaccine for our officers. I think 60 to 80% of our officers will get it, because they think it’s safe and effective. There are some who won’t because they want to wait and see how it plays out.

Our front-line health care workers are in the first tier and will receive it first. We’re in the second tier, but we’re in the first phase of that second tier.  The first ones will be those in the patrol cars, who have the maximum exposure. Then it’s those who have to come into work but may have a bit less exposure. Finally, the third tier will be everybody else.

We’ve been told that our first group will start receiving the vaccine in late January to early February.

Irving Assistant Chief Darren Steele

Back when this first started, we rolled out the PPE quickly and all our officers were well-supplied. We mandated that they wear a mask whenever they were in public, and they have N95 masks available if they’re going hands-on with people. Our officers out on the street and our jail officers are very well-equipped with PPE, including N95 masks, other masks, gloves, and sanitizer.

Initially we did really well, with few positive cases. We had a lot of reported exposures, and therefore quarantines, in the first several months. But positive cases weren’t particularly high. In mid- to late-November we saw a spike. At one point we had 36 people out at once. It seemed like the number of exposures didn’t increase much, but the percentage of those that resulted in positive cases went way up. Since this started, we’ve had 46 positive cases, and I think the majority of those have come recently.

We see that the exposures and positive cases mostly come from interactions between officers, not from responding to a call or dealing with the public. It’s officers eating together or just socializing. And they get comfortable not wearing their PPE around each other.  Then they find out the next day that the person they were around had been exposed. That’s our big challenge, and we’ve had to handle that by educating them about their risks. I think we’re seeing improvements from that.

Early on, we identified all our officers who aren’t out on the street and haven’t been performing patrol duties for a few years. We put them through a mini-training and sent them out with field training officers for a couple days, just in case we had a whole shift go down or something like that.


We’re not going to mandate the vaccine. We think it’s 3 to 5 weeks out. We haven’t taken a poll, but from talking to people, I’d say 40% of them would take it right now and 60% wouldn’t want to do it.


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.