March 7, 2020


Washington State COVID-19 responses, upcoming first-line supervision webinar, and PERF staff attend an officer wellness symposium

Dear PERF members,

Welcome to this week’s “PERF Trending.”

The coronavirus threat, as reported by agencies in Washington State: I want to thank all of the PERF members who responded to my inquiry yesterday about the response to the coronavirus threat. Within minutes, I was receiving many thoughtful, useful replies. It’s clear that police and sheriffs’ departments across the country are scrambling to prepare for this threat. Over the coming week, PERF will be compiling and sharing the advice we are receiving with all PERF members. 

Today, I thought we should begin with what we heard from Washington State, which is Ground Zero for COVID-19, with 70 confirmed cases at the moment. 

Telecommuting in Bellevue, WA: Steve Mylett is Chief of the Bellevue, WA Police Department, which is just a few miles south of Kirkland, where most of the coronavirus fatalities occurred when the virus swept through the Life Care Center nursing home. I’m grateful to Chief Mylett for providing an excellent summary of actions he has taken, which include the following:

--We have issued all patrol officers Personal Protective Equipment.
--We suspended our volunteer program, because most members are 70+ years of age.
--Our dispatch center is screening calls to determine if the caller has flu-like symptoms. For non-emergency situations, we are requesting that the caller meet officers outside of the building.
--For pure non-emergency medical calls where we are dispatched along with the Fire Department, we will stage nearby until Fire brings us forward.
--In an effort to reduce exposure to the virus, I have directed officers to only enforce the most serious of traffic violations.
--Each division has been tasked with identifying positions that would be eligible to telecommute under City of Bellevue policy. While I am not mandating working from home for these sworn and civilian positions, I am strongly encouraging it. Obviously, telecommuting is not possible for every position. However, we are doing our best to protect all employees from unnecessary exposure to the virus. Our detective unit will have a skeleton crew at the station while others work from home. We have created a reserve patrol unit, should the current patrol squads contract the virus and need to be quarantined or isolated for 2 weeks.
--We are encouraging the public to use the online reporting portal and we are increasing the list of crimes that can be reported online.


“A bit surreal” in Redmond, WA: I also received a thoughtful email from Captain Erik Scairpon of the Redmond, WA Police Department, which is a few miles east of Kirkland. Captain Scairpon provided a list of actions taken in Redmond, many of which are similar to those described by Chief Mylett. Erik also provided these comments: 

Redmond is currently under a declared civil emergency, and has an Emergency Coordination Center activated during daytime hours. During the Life Care [nursing home] medical responses last week that led to the current crisis, a number of our staff from Redmond Fire had potential exposure to COVID-19. Currently, they are all without symptoms, which we attribute to wearing proper PPE. We have several employees who have possible secondary vulnerabilities through loved ones who also work in public safety, local hospitals, etc. Fortunately, they are also still healthy. We’ve been encouraging them to self-report any symptoms and stay home if sick. Life here is a bit surreal, with many employers moving to a strict telecommute policy.

Most agencies here have been caught a bit short on masks, eye protection, and gowns. When orders are placed, they get cut in half or denied by suppliers. The EOC/ECC/OEM community has been great to work with to get additional supplies. Fit-testing for N95 masks is likely an area for improvement for agencies. Our local grocery stores and Costcos have seen runs on staple items, but there are no issues with any civil disorder.

Our suggestion is to get together with your fire department and follow their advice on how to partner for COVID response. Have Fire staff in to talk with your cops and other employees. Doing this has been beneficial to our agency response and has helped to keep people informed and allow them to ask questions and voice concerns.


Sick employees must stay home: “The biggest thing is reminding our employees to stay home if they feel sick,” Commander Robert Hollis from the Kent, WA Police Department told us. “Sometimes as first responders, we say things like ‘It’s just a sniffle,’ not realizing the impact it might have on others.”

Chief Rod Covey of the Port of Seattle Police Department agreed, saying that large departments need to “push it out to your districts and precincts that one employee can infect an entire unit.” Departments can respect HIPAA laws and employees’ privacy but still ask all employees to keep their supervisors posted about any illness they are feeling. “We are cancelling face-to-face meetings where people would typically gather to conduct business,” Chief Covey added.

Going back to patrol: Chief David Doll of Bellingham, WA noted that “all commissioned personnel should be ‘patrol-ready,’ ” because if coronavirus infections force patrol officers to stay home, detectives and personnel from other units will need to return to patrol duty. “Now is the time to make sure you have your uniform and gear ready,” this chief said.

“Stop shaking hands”: Many chiefs emphasized the need to get officers to constantly think in terms of “social distancing.” As Chief Doll put it, “Stop shaking hands. Do the elbow bump. Keep in mind that N95 respirators are only 95% effective at filtering out harmful particulates in the air. Space is still our best defense against spreading this virus. If you don’t need to get close, don’t.”

Chief Doll offered this summary of the situation today, telling his officers: “There is no need to panic, but there is a need for us to collectively prepare, especially to ensure that you and your family remain healthy and we remain operational.”

Stay tuned for more coronavirus information, which PERF will include in the Daily Clips next week.


Things are changing in Chicago: You may have seen this video of an officer-involved shooting in Chicago last Friday. Two officers assigned to the Police Department’s Mass Transit Unit saw a man moving between cars on a train. When the man got off the train, the officers attempted to arrest him. The officers apparently used pepper spray and an Electronic Control Weapon, but were unable to subdue the man. One of the officers then shot the man.

Five days later, the department announced that Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck has relieved both officers of their police powers, pending the outcome of external reviews of the incident.

This story is an example of how policing has changed. In the past, police chiefs would simply say, “This incident is under investigation,” and that would be it. But many of today’s police leaders recognize that a lot of damage can be done to a department’s reputation while investigations drag on. Superintendent Beck decided that his preliminary review produced enough information to take action.

At PERF, over the years we have debated whether to include stories about controversial shootings or other incidents in our Daily Clips, because there was a prevailing culture that “you shouldn’t be a Monday-morning quarterback.” But we need to tell your stories, whether they’re good or bad, so that everyone can learn from these incidents. Police chiefs often tell us that they send our Clips to their command staff or their training academy, where they review the videos and ask, “Should anything about this incident have been done differently, or could officers have taken some other action to improve the situation?”


What first-line supervisors need to know when responding to critical incidents: If you ask any police chief to name the most important job in their department, they’ll say: “the first-line supervisors.” When I worked in the Boston Police Department, I remember the arguments between the head of investigations and the head of patrol about taking a working sergeant out of patrol and putting them in investigations. The patrol chief would say things like, “You can’t take that sergeant, she’s holding the midnight shift together!”

And when I talk with police chiefs and sheriffs about their agencies’ responses to critical incidents such as multiple shootings, hostage-barricade situations, or potential use-of-force incidents, the first thing they emphasize is the need to quickly get a sergeant to the scene.
But what exactly do we expect first-line supervisors to do once they get there? The training that sergeants receive for the most part is spotty or nonexistent. And there doesn’t appear to be a ready-reference playbook to help them know what to do to manage the initial response.

PERF is working to fill that gap. With the help of the COPS Office, PERF is developing an online Critical Response Toolkit for First-Line Supervisors. This toolkit can be described as a set of checklists to help sergeants plan for, manage, and debrief critical incidents.

PERF will release the final toolkit later this year, and we are seeking feedback on the current draft. We invite you and your agency’s first-line supervisors to participate in a webinar where we’ll review the contents of the draft toolkit and solicit feedback. The webinar will take place at 1 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday, March 10. If a member of your agency can help us by providing comments, please email PERF Senior Research Associate Matt Harman ([email protected]), and he will get you registered.


Officer Safety and Wellness: PERF’s Technical Assistance crew was in Miami last week attending a Wellness Symposium sponsored by IACP, with police officials from the three agencies that PERF has assisted with developing officer safety and wellness (OSW) programs: Lakewood, WA; Roanoke County, VA; and Delray Beach, FL. Through a COPS-funded grant, Director Jessica Toliver and her team have reviewed these agencies’ wellness-related needs and goals and provided tailored recommendations and resources to assist them with developing holistic safety and wellness policies, programs, and practices.

Advancing diversity in the Prince William County, VA Police Department:  PERF met this week with Chief Barry Barnard of the Prince William County PD and his Chief’s Advisory Council, to discuss strategies for increasing diversity in the department by recruiting and hiring more officers from minority groups. The Advisory Council members said that the department should ensure that potential candidates can see members of minority groups at all ranks throughout the department, so they can envision themselves in the department. The Advisory Council also recommended that the department use its social media accounts to highlight the work of minority group officers interacting with community members in positive ways.  

In case you missed it:  We ran this story in Clips a few days ago. If you missed it, take a look at the 2-minute video.  Corporal Christian Payamps of the Prince George’s County, MD Police Department responded to a call from a woman who was having trouble with her 23-year-old son, who has autism. “Her son was having a bad day, and he was visibly agitated,” Corporal Payamps said. He noticed musical instruments in the room, and ended up having a jam session with the young man – which completely calmed him down.  De-escalation takes many forms.  


My theater review: “Tina” on Broadway:  Last weekend my wife and I saw the new show about Tina Turner. This is a compelling story of someone who overcame tremendous obstacles to become a sensational singer. It gets Wexler’s four stars!

I hope you have a great weekend. PERF’s Weekend Clips are below.




PERF’s Weekend Clips

Baltimore Sun: Police Commissioner Harrison discusses ‘squeegee kids’ and his 5-year crime plan with Baltimore’s business leaders.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison pushed back Wednesday on calls for increased police pressure on the city’s so-called squeegee kids while telling city business leaders about his five-year crime plan.

Speaking with the Greater Baltimore Committee, Harrison said he would like to see more resources directed toward helping teenagers and young adults get good jobs and a better education. He also touted his five-year crime-fighting strategy meant to reduce violence and increase community engagement while complying with reforms required under a federal consent decree.


St. Louis Public Radio: 'We had to do better': Metro Transit leaders discuss new security strategy

Taulby Roach has made the safety of the St. Louis region’s transit system a major focus since becoming president and CEO of Bi-State Development 14 months ago. Just last week, he and other area leaders gathered to mark the culmination of two years of study and planning aimed at improving safety on buses and light rail lines. They touted the creation of a four-prong “systemwide security strategy” aimed at reducing “the rate and perception of crime” on transit, among other commitments.

Bi-State also recently selected private security firm GS4 for a three-year contract, and has a new plan in place for a bigger police presence on MetroLink, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Roach joined host Sarah Fenske to discuss the latest developments in the agency’s safety efforts.


Route Fifty: How fines and fees reform became a priority for cities across the country

City leaders across the country are taking a new approach, determining that what had once seemed like reasonable reprimands are in fact big burdens on the poor. This reassessment spread from traffic violations to looking at the details of how bail is implemented and efforts to clear warrants on old charges for minor offenses. At the same time, dozens of cities have also eliminated library late fees in the past year and wiped resident debt to restore library cards. 


Washington Post: Analysis: In the U.S. criminal justice system, algorithms help officials make better decisions, our research finds

Should an algorithm help make decisions about whom to release before trial, whom to release from prison on parole or who receives rehabilitative services? They’re already informing criminal justice decisions around the United States and the world and have become the subject of heated public debate. Many such algorithms rely on patterns from historical data to assess each person’s risk of missing their next court hearing or being convicted of a new offense.

More than 60 years of research suggests that statistical algorithms are better than unaided human judgment at predicting such outcomes. In 2018, that body of research was questioned by a high-profile study published in the journal Science Advances, which found that humans and algorithms were about equally as good at assessing who will reoffend. But when we attempted to replicate and extend that recent study, we found something different: Algorithms were substantially better than humans when used in conditions that approximate real-world criminal justice proceedings.


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