January 19, 2022

The Impact of Omicron on Police Departments


On January 14, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler interviewed top officials from four police departments about how the Omicron variant has affected their agencies:

  • Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison
  • Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore
  • NYPD Chief of Department Kenneth Corey
  • Dallas Assistant Chief Jesse Reyes



The status of Omicron varies by location. In Baltimore, officials believe Omicron has already peaked, but in Los Angeles, Chief Moore believes the peak might be weeks away.

Because Omicron has been sweeping through cities so rapidly, it has disrupted staffing in some police agencies.  The NYPD sick rate hit an all-time high of 22% in late December. Baltimore’s sick rate has been in the 12-13% range.

While agencies are losing large numbers of personnel to COVID quarantines, they are generally out of work for shorter periods of time when compared to earlier waves of the virus.  Individuals with mild or no symptoms are returning to work in a matter of days, compared to weeks earlier in the pandemic, before vaccines were available. And COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths are much lower, too.

In response to staffing challenges, agencies have employed a number of strategies, including shifting personnel to patrol and detective units, mandating overtime, and restricting leave. However, the changes have not been nearly as dramatic as during previous waves.

Police agencies have moved away from work-at-home policies.  Compared to other city agencies, it is more difficult for police departments to allow professional staff members or others to work from home, because of the nature of police work, the fact that police employees must have access to secure, confidential databases, etc.  And it is uncertain whether employees working from home are less likely to become infected, because restaurants, stores, entertainment venues, and other locations are not shut down.  So some police agencies are shifting away from work-at-home policies.

However, the LAPD is losing some employees who are taking new jobs in other city agencies, in order to be eligible for work-at-home privileges.


Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison: Omicron has affected every bureau in my department

COVID has presented a challenge every day. BPD quarantined as many as 384 members earlier in the week, and today there are 308 quarantined. We had 354 positive cases last Monday, but today it’s 255, with 56 tests pending.

We haven’t had to make too many adjustments, other than offering overtime to some employees, and requiring overtime for others, to make sure we have adequate staffing in patrol and investigations. We haven’t had to collapse any units in order to be a force-multiplier for other units.  But it has affected all nine of our police districts and each one of our investigative units. It’s affected every single bureau, all the way up to me.

We’ve been following the new CDC guidelines, with 5 days of quarantine. If there are no symptoms,  personnel can come back but have to wear a mask at all times. If they have symptoms, they need to stay another 5 days in quarantine. And we are not charging these days against their leave.

I myself tested positive the week after Christmas. My 5th day would have been the following Monday, and I elected to take a few more days because I still had a couple of mild symptoms.

With 384 members quarantined, it’s affected us, but not as badly as the first wave. During the first wave, the symptoms were much worse, there was not a vaccine, and people were out for 2, 3, or 4 weeks. Now, most are only out with mild symptoms for 5 or 6 days.

We have 12 to 13% of the department out each day, with about 10% positive. But the same percentage are returning to work every day.

Wexler:  Has COVID peaked in the Baltimore?

Commissioner Harrison:  Listening to the experts at the state level, it appears that it has peaked in Maryland. We think it has peaked in the Police Department. People are staying out for shorter periods of time, and they’re returning sooner with no symptoms.


Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore: Our officers are out with COVID for 24 days

We have seen a surge, like everyone else. We’re at 7% out sick, with more than 800 people currently quarantining. Last week we had more than 500 people who were positive for COVID. Looking back 5 weeks ago, we had fewer than 100 people at home, so it grew quite quickly.

We are not at the peak yet in Los Angeles County. I think we are at best plateauing, but I don’t even want to claim that, because I think we need to see at least two or three more weeks.

But the severity on our people is much less than it was last year. 84% of our workforce is vaccinated. In terms of our breakthrough rate, about 22% of our people coming down with COVID have been fully vaccinated. We have one person who has been hospitalized over the past two weeks, and we had two others who went through a hospital cycle, and I’m grateful to say they are home and are recovering.

In terms of our challenges to deployment, we are meeting our minimum standards for patrol. Our investigative units and administrative units do have a number of holes. We are prioritizing staffing in our homicide details and other crimes of violence, and we have instructed our sworn and civilian staff that minimum staffing levels are just that, and that they are to call people in on overtime shifts as needed.

In our Communications Division, where we have more than 600 civilian 911 call-takers, 61 of them are out, and that’s requiring about 20% of the force to do extended shifts of 1 to 3 additional hours.

All of this is delaying our response times to routine calls. Our urgent and emergency calls remain OK. We monitor our critical deployment in patrol 3 times a day, and there are some instances in which we are realigning some non-patrol resources to ensure patrol remains staffed.  Our Fire Department has cancelled days off and vacations, but we have not had to do that yet. We did two years ago, in the initial days of the pandemic.

Moving forward, we are monitoring this daily, and the largest issue we’re working on now is that our average absences as a result of people coming down with COVID is 24 days. We need to improve on that. I do not believe the severity of this current Omicron variant justifies that. We should be pulling people back in.

But we’re surviving, we’re working through it, and we have more levers to pull if we need to. I’m hopeful that by the end of January, we should peak in LA County. We have the Super Bowl here on February 13, which will impact our deployment.

Wexler:  How is the pandemic affecting your professional staff?

Chief Moore:  Most of the city government personnel except for Police and Fire are working from home, and our greatest challenge is that many of our professional staff members are taking jobs in other city departments, because of the convenience of being allowed to work from home. Because of the nature of our work, with employees needing access to criminal justice databases, etc., it’s more difficult for our people to work from home. We still have some people tele-commuting, and we also do partial tele-commuting, where we allow some employees to work from home some days of the week, as a means of striking a balance.


New York City Chief of Department Kenneth Corey: In accordance with CDC guidance, we changed our process for getting personnel back to work sooner

Things are very different today, compared to the spring of 2020. Back then, we hit an all-time sick rate for our uniformed sworn members, with 20% of the department out sick. That was 7,200 officers out sick at the same time, and that number held for about 8 weeks.

One major difference is that back then, the city was in full lockdown, so we could easily move resources around. Our response times actually improved, because there was no traffic and officers were able to move around more quickly.

By the summer of 2020, our sick rate dropped to about 4.5%, compared to a normal, pre-pandemic daily sick rate of 3%.  And that stayed pretty constant, except for a small post-holiday spike in 2020.

December 19, 2021 was when our sick rate stared to jump fast, doubling every day. On New Year’s Eve 2021, we hit an all-time high of 22%, or 7,500 officers out. That was a significant challenge, because Times Square alone usually calls for a commitment of about 5,000 officers, and the Mayor made it clear that Times Square was going to continue as a live, in-person event.

And while the entire department was at a 22% sick rate, we had individual precincts that were upwards of 60 or 65% out. So we had to shift officers into those precincts, and we redeployed officers who aren’t normally assigned to patrol functions. We also took what’s a rather extreme step for us and cancelled all regular days off for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. So we were able to get through that.

As Chief Moore said in Los Angeles, we had officers who were out for weeks at a time. When officers go out sick, our process for bringing them back is that they have to report to one of our doctors. We have a full Medical Division that works for us. Our doctors evaluate them and determine when they can return to work.

That system is built to handle the normal situation, when we have 100 or 125 new sick cases per day. But in December, we were seeing almost 1,200 new cases a day, so the doctors couldn’t keep up. So in line with the CDC guidance, we changed our process, so that when officers reported sick with a positive COVID test, they were given an automatic return-to-work on Day 6, provided that they were asymptomatic. If their symptoms persisted or worsened, they could call and have their sick occurrence extended.

That allowed us to get officers back to work very quickly. So for example, we had about 300 officers report sick today, but 450 returned to work today. So we peaked with 22% out sick on New Year’s Eve, but today we’re at 6.9%, and it’s been dropping.

The City Health Department says we are either at or very near the peak. In the NYPD, the number of officers calling out sick was 1,122 on December 27, and that number steadily declined to where yesterday, it was 214. So I think we peaked about Dec. 27 or 28, and since then we’ve come right back down, almost as quickly. 

At the moment, we have 5 officers hospitalized, and 3 of them are in the ICU. They are all in stable condition. We have a vaccination mandate, so all of our officers are required to be fully vaccinated. We are at about 88% compliance. There is a process for officers to apply for a religious or medical exemption, and that process is still playing out. Those who are not vaccinated are subjected to weekly testing.

We got hit very hard during the course of this pandemic. We’ve had 15 officers who passed away due to COVID, 41 professional support staff, and 7 of our auxiliary volunteers. So 63 members of the NYPD family have lost their lives due to COVID.


Dallas Assistant Chief Jesse Reyes: The last 2 weeks have been challenging

The good news for Dallas is that our public health officials believe we will peak next week. Currently we are at 9% out, or just under 300 officers. The severity is less than it was in the initial wave; however, it moved a lot faster than the first wave.

We’re still following the 10-day CDC rule, but there’s talk about shifting to 5 days.

Unlike some other states, we do not have mandates for masks or vaccination, which has proven to be a challenge. We strongly encourage our sworn personnel to remain socially distant and wear their masks. We have our roll-call details outside rather than inside, and we ask our officers to use their telephones while en route to calls, and if possible, to have the caller meet them outside. Most of our professional meetings are being done virtually.

We’ve been fortunate not to have had to make any major staffing changes. We are offering a little bit of overtime to backfill some positions, but are fortunate not to have a major issue with that at this point.

Currently we do not have any personnel hospitalized. Since the onset of COVID, we have lost 5 sworn personnel.

These last two weeks have been extremely challenging. We’ve had quite a few officers report positive, so it’s a little hard to believe it will peak next week, but that’s what the public health officials are predicting.


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.