Michigan has seen a recent increase in COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. And law enforcement agencies in the state are preparing for next week’s election, particularly after the recent alleged plot by six men to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer because they were angry about COVID lockdown orders she issued.

PERF spoke with two Michigan police chiefs and a sheriff about how they are addressing these issues.

Key Takeaways

-- COVID-19 cases are increasing, and many of the new cases can be tied to local universities. Agencies are trying to encourage compliance with COVID regulations without relying on enforcement.

-- Jails are a particular concern for potential COVID outbreaks. Jail officials are implementing testing programs and taking other protective measures to prevent outbreaks.

-- Agencies are reassuring their communities that they will respond to any issues that arise with the upcoming election. They are not planning to maintain a presence at polling locations, but will be in the vicinity and available to respond.

-- Agencies do not have information about any militia activity, but they are increasing staffing and developing plans to respond if self-appointed “militias” disrupt voting.

Lansing Chief Daryl Green


Our COVID cases are largely being generated from our local university, Michigan State University. That’s really where we’ve had “super-spreader” parties. These spikes are putting demands on us.

Michigan State students are not attending classes in person, but many of the students have apartments and are living nearby. The university is technically in East Lansing, but many students live in our city. So we’re still dealing with those parties, and our health director has been encouraging us to try to stymie some of those events. We’re doing our best to try to talk our way through those incidents without any heavy-handed enforcement.

We also have the issue of executive orders. Lansing is the state capital; in fact, the governor’s office is right across the street from my office.  And we’re getting resistance to her executive orders from some of our conservative politicians in the area.

There’s also worry from some of our officers about whether we’re going to have to go back to some of our COVID-19 contingency plans as we see more cases.

Our public school system is going to remain closed and has no plans to go to a hybrid system, probably for the remainder of the school year at this point.


I pushed out a crisis communication plan because I was getting a lot of calls, particularly from local people of color, expressing safety concerns with in-person voting. We just pushed out some information to the media, and we’ll follow up with more information. We’re working closely with our city clerk’s office.

We haven’t seen any type of information about a credible threat to the election. But we have a relatively large refugee population, and many of them, as well as people from our Black churches, have expressed concerns. I’m trying to communicate as best as possible with those organizations and communities to let them know that we’re only a phone call away.

Here in Michigan our open-carry laws are an issue. We’re still in the dark about our legal authorities. We’ll definitely have protesters out here in front of the Capitol building. That’s an issue we expect them to take up and test. As of now, we expect the clerks will try to manage the situation in polling places. If someone comes in with a gun and is posing no safety risk, they’ll just let them be. We will deal with any type of disruption.

We’re increasing our staffing, and are making sure to let our communities know that staffing will be increased.

I think we’re accustomed to dealing with militias here. What’s concerning to me is the rhetoric we may hear after the election, tied with the continued threats against our governor. Depending on who wins the election, we will definitely have some spikes in protests here in the capital city, and a lot of guns will be in the area. And the counter-protesters who come in could spark confrontations.

Ann Arbor Chief Michael Cox


The county is really starting to see an uptick, mostly due to the university. It’s shot up about 600 cases in a week, and about 62% of those were University of Michigan students. So they’re really driving it, and it has to do with social gatherings.

The University of Michigan recently went to all virtual classes, and the county public health department just issued a stay-at-home order specifically for University of Michigan undergraduate students.

Earlier in the year we had a collaboration with the University of Michigan and their police department. The dean’s office developed an ambassador program. They had students and faculty who would go to locations where we had calls about social gatherings to talk to the students about not throwing parties, and to take an enforcement action within the university system. That was working well early on, but the school shut that program down because there were protests about the school collaborating with the police. Since then, the COVID outbreak has gotten a lot worse.

Now it’s left to us to enforce based on noise complaints. And those are challenging. You worry about the officers’ safety if they go into the residence. And we don’t want to antagonize people, particularly with the students here being very aware of the recent protests about policing. We try to use education to obtain compliance. Until recently I thought we were doing all right, but now not so much.  

Up until about two weeks ago we didn’t have any cases in our agency. We’ve just recently had a couple officers come down with the virus. Prior to that we were very fortunate.


There are a lot of people within the city who are anxious about what to expect, whether it’s protests regarding the outcome or militia groups preventing people from voting. I don’t know how likely that is, but people are anxious.

We have a plan and will have all hands on deck. Our officers won’t be right at the polling locations, but they’ll be in the area to discourage voter intimidation or other misconduct.

Ann Arbor has had about 60 protests since George Floyd’s death, and they mostly have been nonviolent. And there certainly hasn’t been the super-destructive behavior we’ve seen in other places. That being said, you have to be ready for anything.  

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon


We lost a commander and a deputy to COVID in the early stages of the pandemic. We’ve had a couple hundred people test positive.

When the pandemic first broke out, I reached out for guidance from everyone I could think of who had responsibility for incarcerating inmates, including all the state and national associations. But there wasn’t much help, because COVID isn’t an issue anyone had experienced before.

Fortunately, my senior staff has significant training in emergency management and disaster planning, and we put together the best plan we could to take care of the inmates. We were trying to prevent an outbreak in the jail. On any given day, I have about 2,700 inmates under my responsibility.

We test every inmate who comes in, and then they’re isolated until the result comes back, which usually takes 3-4 days.

We hadn’t had an outbreak in the jail since May, but recently we had four people test positive. Most of them were new inmates coming into the jail, so they were isolated and not part of the general population.

We put a lot of people out on electronic monitoring. On any given day we have about 1,500 people on monitoring. We did a lot with them early on to reduce risks, and now that’s being replicated and mandated throughout the state.


The secretary of state has restricted open-carry at polling locations and within 100 feet of a polling place. The attorney general has researched Michigan law, and the attorney general’s opinion is that the secretary of state has that authority. I’m a lawyer and an officer of the court. My understanding of the law in the state of Michigan is that the attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer of the state and the state’s top lawyer. Until such time as a court with appropriate jurisdiction issues an order to the contrary, it’s the attorney general’s responsibility to interpret Michigan statutes. Since no court has said that the secretary of state does not have the authority to prohibit open carry at a polling location, I believe I am responsible for enforcing that order.

We have people available to respond in the event that a local community asks for help. All 43 communities in Wayne County have their own police departments. I’m not going to proactively seek out these circumstances, but if asked to help, I will help.

We have not had any significant issues with militias in Wayne County, and we have no knowledge of anything planned for election day. We will have several strike teams on standby and will respond if asked to do so by a local police agency


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.