Today’s Critical Issues Report covers two issues. First, PERF followed up with some of the agencies that reported they had successfully vaccinated more than 75% of their officers in the survey that PERF published Tuesday.

Then, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with Miami Beach Police Chief Rick Clements about the challenges his department has faced due to the influx of spring break visitors over the past five weeks.



Dane County, WI Sheriff Dave Mahoney

At the end of 2020, we were beginning to see a significant spike in COVID in our jail. Our average daily population is normally about 1,000. We dropped down into the 500-600 range, working with the courts and district attorney. At that number, we had 110 active COVID cases within the jail inmate population at one point.

Because our staff are required to work within the COVID units, we mandated that they get vaccinated once they were eligible for vaccination. The union indicated their displeasure with mandatory vaccinations. We held strong, saying that once the vaccinations were available to law enforcement, we were going to move forward with mandatory vaccinations for all staff. The union took a survey of their membership and found that less than 60% of the staff would voluntarily take it, and they would refuse if mandated.

After talking about it among the National Sheriffs’ Association and some major city chiefs, I decided I would not make it mandatory.

Following the change in position, the percentage of people indicating they would voluntarily take the vaccine went from the mid-50s to 80-85%. As of today, we’ve done two rounds. The first was those who volunteered when the vaccine was first available. We also offered it to employees, mostly non-sworn, who had been working from their homes for almost a year now. They had been excluded from the first round, but they were offered the second round.

Today, the percentage of our staff, both sworn and non-sworn, who have been vaccinated is probably in the high 80s. Many who had previously refused it have now come forward in the past week to say they’d like to be scheduled for their vaccination.

I think people saw it as a personal decision, and they didn’t want to be told they were going to have to do it. I think they intended to do it, but they were going to refuse it if we mandated it.

We are now following the health department’s advice that if all individuals working together at a work site have been vaccinated, they do not have to wear masks. But if one individual working in the unit, whether it’s a patrol precinct or a jail, did not take the vaccination, everybody must wear a mask. We’re just beginning to implement that public health mandate, and I think some individuals who have not been vaccinated will feel pressure from their fellow employees who would like to dispense with masks. 

We’re now rolling out vaccines for all inmates within the correctional facility. We’ve begun the educational process, encouraging all individuals to take the free vaccine. If they refuse, we’ll have to deal with housing those individuals differently.


Lowell, MA Superintendent Kelly Richardson

During the pandemic, I’ve had constant contact with the whole organization. The COVID numbers and other information came directly from me. The goal was to let our people know that we have their backs, and we’ll do whatever we can to keep them safe.

When we finally got to the point where the vaccine was here, we had a discussion with the union to let them know that the city was looking at whether refusal to take the vaccine might impact on-duty injury status. I personally did not want to see that happen. We didn’t make it a threat; we just said that this was something the city could enforce if you were given an opportunity to be protected and didn’t take it.

We also pointed out that they’d be bringing this home to their families, so they need to protect them. They also needed to protect their fellow officers.

Fortunately, they agreed. I think a few were nervous, but once we got above 75%, I think others saw that some people did get sick with side effects, most people didn’t, and it made them a little more comfortable to do it.

We’re on a 4-days-on, 2-days-off schedule here. We’d generally get them their shot on their last day on, so that if they had any side-effects, they’d be home. We couldn’t arrange the schedule that way for everyone, so for the others, we wouldn’t charge them sick time if they were sick as a result of getting the shot. That carried a lot of weight with them.

Here our civilian employees have not been given a priority status for receiving vaccinations. We tried to push for that through the city, but the state controls the priority groups. So even though 75-80% of our officers are vaccinated, we send out reminders that we need to continue to wear masks around our civilian employees, because we have a responsibility to protect them. So far, that’s been going well. Now we’re working to get our civilians vaccinated.


Lincoln, NE Acting Chief Brian Jackson

Like a lot of locations, the initial rollout in Lincoln and Nebraska was slow, and there wasn’t enough vaccine to meet the demand in the 1A group. In Nebraska, law enforcement is 1B, so we had to wait for our turn to be vaccinated.

During the 1A phase, we were able to put ourselves on a list to be available if there were extra vaccinations available at the end of the day. We put that out to our staff and offered to put them on the list if they wanted a chance at getting the shot early. The rest of the department saw those people were fine after the vaccination and were able to discuss how pain-free and problem-free the process was with their coworkers.

During that time, we had a couple high-profile COVID cases, where officers were hospitalized. We communicated that to everybody, to make sure everyone knew that COVID is more than just the flu. We continued to educate our staff as best we could on the value of being vaccinated. We did that through our daily briefings, and shared information on the vaccine itself and potential side effects.

Throughout 2020, we constantly communicated with our staff about COVID-related concerns, safety measures, and programs. We meet with our union every other week and had very direct conversations about their concerns and our response. That continued through our whole year.

We included our civilian staff in these vaccinations. We have about 500 employees, 358 of whom are commissioned. Once we reached 1B, we vaccinated everybody. We vaccinated civilians as essential workers, because if our communications center goes down, our officers on the street are really hampered from doing their jobs. And if we can’t move our reports, citations, and arrests to our prosecutors, we’re hampered in our ability to provide public safety. And our garage personnel make sure our cars run. So when we had the opportunity to vaccinate, we vaccinated anybody who works in the Lincoln Police Department and opted to accept it.

We continue to pick up a few stragglers here and there. Some staff members were unable to get the vaccine when it was offered to staff, either for medical reasons or being gone during that timeframe. Just under 20% of our staff – 88 members of our department – have had COVID. That has drastically declined as vaccinations have started to occur. I think that’s an incentive. People see that the vaccination is better than catching COVID, and we’re trying to continue to provide the opportunity for those who decide they want to get vaccinated.



Miami Beach Chief Rick Clements

Chuck Wexler: How is the department doing?

Chief Clements: We’re tired. I think the entire department is exhausted. It has actually been five weeks, not just one week, of a modified spring break schedule down here. The last two weeks have been the pinnacle of the spring break period.

Wexler: When is the spring break period in Miami Beach?

Chief Clements: Traditionally it has been about four weeks, with two high-impact weeks and two “bookend” weeks. But this year, because COVID has changed schedules, it went from the 15th of February all the way to the 11th of April. It’s 8 weeks of challenging times.

Wexler: How are you managing the surge this year?

Chief Clements: It’s challenging. From a law enforcement perspective, we’re mostly trying to have a presence. We want people to understand our role, which is maintaining peace and order.

At the same time, we have a humanitarian responsibility to try to keep what we think could be a super-spreader event in check. I think we’ve handed out thousands of masks over the last two weeks in an effort to try to curb the potential for a super-spreader event as people go back to wherever they’re from.

Wexler: Do the business owners and residents see this influx of people differently?

Chief Clements: They’re coming at it from different perspectives. The business community obviously needs it. They were shut down for a significant period of time. People were furloughed or lost their jobs. Some businesses closed and have not yet reopened. For the most part, the businesses want people to be here.

The residents had a rough time with spring break last year. And this year they were concerned about the potential for unrest and the potential for people bringing the virus down here and reintroducing it into an area where we were starting to get it under control a few months ago.

Wexler: How do government leaders expect the police department to respond? You had to use pepper balls to control the crowd, correct?

Chief Clements: Our elected officials and residents expect us to maintain order as best we can. We deployed pepper balls as a last resort under two sets of circumstances: when we were faced with hostile acts from the crowd toward officers who were doing what they needed to do to effectuate an arrest, and when the crowd was starting to swell around officers who were trying to clear an area, with the potential for items to be thrown at them. In the past five weeks, I think we’ve used pepper balls on three separate occasions in brief situations that warranted them based on those criteria. In only using them on three occasions in five weeks, I think we’ve shown tremendous restraint.

Wexler: How many arrests have you made?

Chief Clements: We’ve made over 1,000 arrests.

Wexler: Are you planning to handle the next couple weeks any differently from the past few weeks?

Chief Clements: I don’t think so. We have a goodwill ambassador program, and I think we may be able to use them more. The goodwill ambassadors are civilian volunteers from different parts of the city and county. They help us defuse situations before law enforcement intervention is necessary.

For example, during our high-impact period, we don’t allow amplified music from boom boxes or speakers. The goodwill ambassadors go to individuals who are doing that and tell them they need to shut it down. The message seems to be better received than it is when we do it, and it’s less confrontational.

We have 25-50 ambassadors a night, and I could see asking for 100 people to help deal with the crowds.

Wexler: Are your elected officials supportive of the mask mandate?

Chief Clements: Our elected officials have been very proactive about pushing out the mask mandates. It’s just very difficult to get people coming here from other parts of the country to follow that mandate. I think the mentality is, “It’s not going to happen to me, and if it does, it’ll only be a cold.” They don’t realize that the bigger issue is who they give the virus to.

Wexler: What message have you been communicating to the local residents?

Chief Clements: They have been incredibly supportive of the police department. I put out a weekly letter with the number of arrests made and information about other things the community has been asking us about. For example, they’ve been asking about traffic enforcement, and over the last five weeks I think we’ve issued over 11,000 traffic citations.

We’ve also taken 106 firearms off the street in a five-week period. That’s been something I’ve really focused on, to let the elected officials and residents know that we’re dealing with people bringing firearms to these events.

Wexler: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Chief Clements: I’m really proud of the department, not so much for the arrests they’ve made as for their stamina, perseverance, and commitment to professionalism.

We’ve brought in people from the NAACP and our community relations board to experience a Saturday night, when spring break is at its peak. I think they now have a better perspective on the challenges this police department faces. And I think it dispelled any concerns they may have had about unfair treatment. They see that we’re policing behavior and trying to make sure we keep people safe.


The PERF Critical Issues 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 this work.