May 19, 2020


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


For today’s COVID-19 Report, we spoke with two police leaders in Colorado:  Police Psychologist Dr. John Nicoletti and Castle Rock, CO Police Chief Jack Cauley.


Police Psychologist Dr. John Nicoletti:

Officers’ Interactions with the Community Are Becoming More Difficult

Police Psychologist Dr. John Nicoletti is a national expert on psychological issues in policing, violence risk assessment, workplace and school violence prevention,   and other critical issues in policing.  He has taken part in investigations such as the Columbine, Aurora, and Virginia Tech mass shootings, and he works with the Denver Police Department and many other law enforcement agencies.  Dr. Nicoletti helped to develop PERF’s Suicide by Cop Protocol and Training Guide.

PERF was interested in Dr. Nicoletti’s views on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting what police officers do, how it is affecting different communities, and new COVID-related challenges that he is seeing now.

Chuck Wexler: What are you seeing from community members?

Dr. Nicoletti: At the beginning of all this, I think most people had a compliant attitude of “we’re all in this together.” But as time goes on, that honeymoon period starts to fade away. The next thing we start to see is “quarantine fatigue.” At that point, people start to view the government as picking winners and losers, in terms of who gets to stay open and who loses their job.

Next is a passive non-compliance phase, when people start to loosen up their diligence about stay-at-home orders.

Now in some places we’ve moved from “quarantine fatigue” to “quarantine anger” and even “quarantine rage.” Instead of being passively non-compliant, they’re starting to be really angry and getting in cops’ faces.

Not all communities are at “quarantine rage,” so it’s important for officers to recognize what phase their community is in. That knowledge helps determine the best way for officers to interact with the community.

Wexler: What do those different phases mean for a patrol officer?

Dr. Nicoletti:  First, you have to assess where on the spectrum each individual is, because you don’t want to overreact or underreact. You don’t want an officer to assume that everyone is at “quarantine rage” when an individual is just at the frustration stage. That assessment is particularly important now.

Wexler:  Is it more difficult to engage community members when officers are wearing a mask and following distancing guidelines?

Dr. Nicoletti:  Yes, definitely. With masks, you lose a lot of non-verbal cues. Even speaking can be more difficult to understand when both parties are wearing masks.

Wexler:  How should police handle social distancing enforcement?

Dr. Nicoletti:  It’s difficult, because often these orders have to be enforced in businesses that are just trying to make a living. I think officers should try to empathize with the individual. We recommend that officers not say, “I need you to do this,” because that turns into a power struggle. Instead, say, “These are Denver’s city rules, and these are things we need to enforce.” Provide a city-level or county-level reason, not a personal reason.

Your relationships with community members are about problem-solving, so set up rules of engagement. The stress can cause both of you to focus on micro-stimuli, meaning that any little thing could escalate to someone losing their temper. So it’s okay to talk about these feelings, and develop rules to manage them. It’s okay to take a timeout rather than get into an argument.

What this is really all about is verbalizing the underlying issues. Once they’re on the table, they can be addressed.

This also affects officers’ home life. We tell officers that if they come home bothered by something and the family asks what’s wrong, “nothing” is not a good answer. That’s frustrating to your family, because they can see something is wrong. So it’s okay to say “I don’t want to talk about it” or “I’m not sure,” but don’t say “nothing” when you’re clearly deviating from your baseline behavior.

It’s also important to maintain coping techniques. For example, here in Colorado gyms are closed, and a lot of cops used to work out as a coping technique. So you have to look for other ways to get exercise. Similarly, if you went to restaurants or a movie theater to take a break, you may need to find creative ways to replace that.

Another recommendation is to avoid overconsuming news. Here in Colorado, the news starts out listing statistics on new cases, hospitalizations, people on ventilators, and deaths. When that’s all you hear, it’s like a circuit overload on your brain.

Wexler:  Have you ever seen anything like what we’re going through now?

Dr. Nicoletti:  This is different, because we’re fighting an invisible enemy. Cops are used to being able to use their skill sets to bring a person to justice. You don’t bring a virus to justice.

And now they’re saying the virus may keep coming back, so it’s a protracted war. It’s hard not to get fatigued by that. So it is different, and people have to adapt.

Wexler:  What is the role of a police leader at a time like this?

Dr. Nicoletti:  Be visible. Be part of the community. Be sensitive to people.

Denver Chief Paul Pazen has asked us to do a wellness check with every single Denver police officer.We’re asking how they’re doing, what the department has done that’s been helpful, and what the department could do to make the situation better. Be sensitive to what officers are going through, and show them that the command staff cares about them.

Wexler:  What’s the goal of these interviews?

Dr. Nicoletti:  We cover three areas: the effects of COVID-19 on work; the effects of COVID-19 on officers personally; and the effects of COVID-19 on officers’ families. We ask how the department could help in each of those areas, and we offer any available resources that may help. I’m going to put together a report for the department, because there’s no blueprint for this, and leaders are breaking new trails on their own.

Wexler:  What else would you like people to know?

Dr. Nicoletti:  Looking ahead, one thing that will be important for the profession is to bring leaders together to discuss how we adapt to this new normal. We need to learn what agencies are doing well, and share those strategies with each other.


Castle Rock, CO Police Chief Jack Cauley:

We Chose to Let Our Health Department Enforce a Public Health Order Violation

On Mother’s Day, May 10, a restaurant in Castle Rock, Colorado opened for sit-down dining in violation of the governor’s public health order.  Police Chief Jack Cauley spoke with PERF about the incident and his approach to addressing violations of these orders.

On Mother’s Day we had a coffeehouse in town that elected to defy the governor’s order forbidding dine-in service. A large crowd showed up to eat inside, and also as a protest of the governor’s order. I didn’t want our officers to become part of the story, so we sent a plainclothes officer to document the violation.

The Friday before Mother’s Day, we received information that this coffeehouse would be violating the order. Our approach is based on education, collaboration, and compassion. It’s part of our vision of “one-by-one” policing, which is about serving people one-by-one to create an environment where people are safe, secure, and can thrive.

So after we received this information, we had an officer call the owner and inform them that opening for dine-in service would be a violation of the state’s public health order. They decided to open up anyway.

Because this was a violation of the state’s public health order, we opted to refer the information to our regional and state health departments. The health department served the restaurant with a closure order, and then the state indefinitely suspended their license. So far, we’ve been successful in navigating this issue without our department taking enforcement action or becoming a visible part of the story.

During incidents like this, I’d recommend moving thoughtfully and communicating with the health department and other partners about options and expectations. This is a public health order violation, and that’s not something that police departments typically deal with.

It’s important to communicate your expectations to your officers, so they understand that we’re there to support the public health department, but our role isn’t to take the lead.

In the last several years, all of us have tried hard to earn the support and trust of our communities. We’ve been very deliberate in our approach to everything related to COVID to be sure that we stay true to who we are, and do not erode the trust and support that we’ve worked so hard to earn. 


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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