May 18, 2020


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


Collaboration by police departments and sheriffs’ offices has always been important, and this is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. For today’s PERF Daily COVID-19 Report, we interviewed police chiefs and sheriffs in four parts of the country – Jefferson County, CO; Pinellas County, FL; San Diego County, CA; and Walworth County, WI – to learn how agencies are communicating and collaborating during the pandemic.


Key Takeaways:

1. Communication: ‘Talking with the Same Voice’:   Sheriffs and police chiefs are working together to try to provide consistency in messaging, policies, and practices with regard to managing COVID-19-related demonstrations and protests, and maintaining “education first” approaches to enforcing public health orders.

 2. Working Together to Slow the Spread of COVID-19 in JailsSheriffs are using a variety of tactics to slow the spread of COVID-19 in jails.  In some cases, sheriffs have made direct appeals to police chiefs to reduce arrests for many low-level, nonviolent offenses, which has helped to produce sharp reductions in jail populations. 

3.  Maintaining Consistency with Changing Policies:  In many parts of the country, state and local governments are allowing various types of businesses to reopen, and allowing the public to use parks, beaches, and other facilities.  But often there is a mix of constantly changing federal, state, and local rules.  In many cases, regulations contradict each other. To reduce the level of confusion, many police chiefs and sheriffs are working together to provide some consistency in the law enforcement response.

4. Sharing PPE and COVID-19 Testing Resources:  Agencies are working together to share PPE resources and COVID-19 testing.



San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit:

We Must Work with the Sheriff’s Department On Demonstrations, Because We Share Jurisdiction

A lot of our protests cross common ground. For instance, we’re going to have demonstrations this weekend in a park that’s in the Sheriff's jurisdiction, but if you step onto the street, you’re in the city of San Diego. The key is having the same voice and approach on public health orders.

Consistency across the board in the county is working for us. It shows a unified front for law enforcement. 


Jefferson County, CO Sheriff Jeff Shrader:

Small Departments Were Asking for Mutual Aid, So I Issued a Declaration of Deputization

It was clear early on that COVID meant we would have to rely on each other more than usual. In particular, small departments in my jurisdiction were asking to more quickly utilize mutual aid. To accomplish this, on March 31 I issued a structured, tightly worded Declaration of Deputization, meaning that I deputized all P.O.S.T.-certified officers in the county who are in good standing with their home agency as deputies of the Sheriff’s Office.


San Diego County Undersheriff Michael Barnett:

We Take an ‘Education First’ Approach to Public Health Orders

Chief Nisleit, the other local chiefs, and I try to maintain consistent messaging to the public. Every city and jurisdiction is a little different with slightly different priorities, but the overall messaging is consistent.

As we go about enforcement, we collectively take an “education first” approach. We first get people to understand why these orders exist, try to get voluntary compliance, then issue misdemeanor citations as a last resort. We’ve only issued 136 citations since this started, so we are doing that very rarely.


St. Petersburg, FL Chief Anthony Holloway:

Our Sheriff Is the Central Point of Contact for Police in the County

The Sheriff took the lead to make sure there is consistency across the county. All agencies call the Sheriff to ask how they are handling different issues, and then implement the same approach. We have consistency because there is a centralized point of contact.



Pinellas County, FL Sheriff Robert Gualtieri:

I Told the Police Chiefs I Needed Help to Reduce My Jail Population

Immediately, I went to Chief Tony Holloway and Chief Dan Slaughter and said, “I need help. We have to work smart and look at alternatives to arrests.” We asked all sheriff’s deputies and police officers to use our pre-arrest diversion program as much as possible, and issue more Notices to Appear. We worked with judges to use our pretrial services program to get people out on supervised Release on Recognizance.  Judges also had “Rocket Dockets” where they were disposing of cases and taking pleas.

Early on, to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the jails, we started screening and temperature checks. We didn’t let anyone come into the general population area unless they had quarantined for 14 days in a separate housing unit.  We also banned visits and screened all of our employees.

We reduced our jail population by over 1,000 inmates in about 3 weeks by getting people out and asking the cities to reduce arrests. Right now we’re at about 2,000 inmates, which is a 20-year low. This is because of the collaboration we had right up front.

We have not had one COVID-19 case in the jail because of the steps we took.

Chuck Wexler: Was Safe Harbor, your homeless facility, impacted?

Sheriff Gualtieri:   We had to make changes, just like with the jails. Previously, people could come and go at will. We stopped that because we are dealing with a vulnerable population. So far, thank goodness, we have not had a case at Safe Harbor either.


Jefferson County, CO Sheriff Jeff Shrader:

We Reduced Our Jail Population by 52%, But Still Had an Outbreak

I ended up issuing an order to tighten standards of who could get booked into the jail. As a result of this and other efforts, we reduced the jail population by 52%.

But in spite of all our efforts, about 10 days ago, we did have an outbreak in a general population area after doing many of the standard efforts, such as 14-day quarantines. We had 17 inmates in the same housing area diagnosed within 3 days.


San Diego County Undersheriff Mike Barnett:

I’m Concerned that Public Safety Is Starting to Be Affected

Our average daily jail population has dropped from 5,600 to 3,800, which is allowing us to put every new inmate in isolation for seven days. If they don’t become symptomatic, then we release them to the general population or to appropriate housing.  There are extensive health screenings before they come in, and we send many off to the emergency room to get further evaluated before we will accept them for booking.

There are a lot of people now out in the community that really should be in jail. They are being cited on a promise to appear, and the court dates are set way off into the future, sometimes August, because of court restrictions. Public safety is starting to be compromised in the community because of the restrictive booking criteria that was imposed upon us by the state.


Chief Anthony Holloway, St. Petersburg Police Department:

Every time we bring a prisoner in, the Sheriff’s office decontaminates our cars. That has been incredibly helpful.



New public health rules and regulations are being introduced day by day as the pandemic unfolds. As beaches and businesses open, these rules are becoming increasingly confusing, and are sometimes in conflict with each other. Sheriffs and police agencies are working together to try to create stability in how these rules are interpreted.


Clearwater, FL Police Chief Dan SlaughterAt the beginning of this process, we were making decisions that weren’t collaborative. Our public was seeing this yo-yo effect of rules that were changing at such a rapid pace and were difficult to digest.

To Sheriff Gualtieri’s credit, his office took ownership and created some universal definitions for us all to rally behind, so that we didn't have multiple interpretations. I think he did an excellent job not only in making those decisions, but getting feedback before he made them, and being accessible to communicate with at all times.



Golden, CO Police Chief Bill Kilpatrick:   In an agency of 51 sworn officers, we rely heavily on collaboration with the county. We’ve been meeting with all first responders in the county once a week. As part of these discussions, we established working groups to address issues like civil disobedience, public messaging, and protection of resources.

We had a statewide stay-at-home order that expired. Various counties have enacted their own extended stay-at-home orders, and people are confused. For example, Denver has a face mask requirement, but under the statewide guidelines, masks are recommended but not required.



On May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s “Safer at Home” orders and required that any future statewide restrictions be approved by a legislative panel.

Walworth County, WI Sheriff Kurt Picknell: The situation is fluid here, and we are working hard to have consistent messaging. There was a determination this morning with our County Board that the County will not have established orders, but there is guidance available on all the questions that businesses and citizens are asking right now. One remaining question is whether the legislature and the Governor will establish rules statewide, regionally, or in certain geographic carve-outs, based on what testing has been.

Delevant, WI Police Chief Ray Clark: The Supreme Court decision came down quickly. Sharing information in our County has been key to success. We have a centralized point of contact responsible for disseminating information to make sure that we are on the same page across 17 different jurisdictions.




Walworth County, WI Sheriff Kurt Picknell:  Local and geographically close sourced PPE items have been coordinated for pickup and distribution within our local and state Sheriffs/Chiefs organizations. It has worked out well, with everyone sharing equipment inventories to level off the local needs whenever possible.



Jefferson County, CO Sheriff Jeff Shrader:   One of the things that we were frustrated with was the absence of COVID-19 testing here locally. So we bought our own antibody test, and set up our own drive-through clinic for our staff or other public safety officials throughout the county. We offered it to other county employees like human services and child protection workers. When someone is found presumptive positive, we sent them immediately to the clinic for confirmation. Doing that early testing has been very advantageous.


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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