May 2, 2020


COVID-19 and Criminal Justice Reform, and a Tribute to Tony Narr

Dear PERF members,

Something interesting has been happening recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic:  Police are arresting fewer people, and police and sheriffs’ offices are trying to reduce their jail populations.

We’re seeing fewer arrests because police are trying to avoid encounters that put officers at risk of contracting the COVID virus.  Arresting, transporting and processing suspects poses serious risks of COVID transmission to officers.  And in many cities, courts have sharply curtailed their operations, which limits how many people can be arrested. Also, there’s less opportunity for crime, because there are fewer people on the streets.

And jails are trying to thin out their inmate populations because it’s easier to prevent the spread of COVID in a jail if it’s half-empty.

These changes are about protecting everyone’s health in this terrible pandemic.  But coincidentally, these changes – arresting fewer people, and putting fewer people in jail – align with the goals of criminal justice reform organizations.

There are two factions at work here:

(1) Criminal justice reformers say the United States arrests and incarcerates far too many people for minor offenses, including offenses that stem from drug addictions, mental illness, or other conditions that should be treated, not punished. 

(2) On the other hand, some community members and officials, including a number of police chiefs and sheriffs, warn that reforms are going too far in their jurisdictions, causing serious repeat offenders to be released again and again and endangering public safety.

We know that something unprecedented is happening because of the COVID pandemic: We are cutting arrests, and are trying to avoid jailing many people.  So we are living in an interesting time to study whether these changes are impacting crime.

Here are a few of the questions that we should be asking: 

  • When individuals are not being sent to jail these days, are they committing new crimes, and if so, what types of crimes?
  • If increases in crime are occurring, is it because suspects accused of low-level offenses are not receiving help with their issues of drug addiction, mental illness, and other conditions? (Another factor working against released jail inmates is the high unemployment level caused by the COVID crisis.)
  • When low-level offenders engaged in drug activity are not arrested, does that have an impact on more serious crimes in the area?
  • To the extent that crime is not increasing in some locations despite fewer arrests and jail bookings, is that evidence supporting criminal justice reform?

Our discussions with police chiefs and sheriffs over the last two months have produced anecdotal information about certain trends. Many police chiefs have told us that residential burglaries are much lower these days, because people are working from home, but commercial burglaries are increasing, because businesses are closed. We also are hearing suggestions that some offenders are taking advantage of the COVID crisis to perpetrate new types of fraud and cybercrimes. And while overall crime may be decreasing, we are also seeing increases in violent crime in some parts of the country.

It would be good to have solid research on these types of issues.  These questions are worth studying.  As jurisdictions begin to “re-open,” it will be interesting to see whether they continue some of the changes made during the pandemic, and what impact there will be on crime. Because these are not normal times, some lessons we learn about crime during this pandemic may not apply when we get back to normal times.

PERF researchers are looking for opportunities to study these issues in depth.

And now I’d like to shift gears for a moment….

In other news, my good friend Tony Narr is retiring.

Many of you know Tony Narr, PERF’s longtime Director of Management Education and creator of our modern-day Senior Management Institute for Police program.  Tony retired yesterday.

Let me start at the beginning.  I first met Tony 28 years ago.  I was new to PERF, and Tony was new to SMIP. And our first meeting was disastrous.

We met at an SMIP session in North Andover, Massachusetts, 30 miles north of Boston. And nobody wanted to be there. The students didn’t want to be there, the faculty members didn’t want to be there.  It was just dismal.

So I told Tony, “You’ve got to fix this.” And that is what he did.  How Tony transformed SMIP was astonishing.

First, Tony has a strong drive toward quality.  He developed a state-of-the-art curriculum for SMIP, and he constantly revised it to stay ahead of the curve and address emerging issues in policing.  He had an uncanny ability to identify world-class faculty members, and he also created sessions with leading police chiefs and other practitioners with real-world experience.  Tony himself has an intellectual streak balanced by his practical experience as a firefighter and a police commander in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Second, Tony realized that it wasn’t enough to simply bring students together and present them with challenging ideas. We had to appeal to their spirit, and give them opportunities to engage with each other and with the faculty.

So Tony said, “Why not move this from North Andover to downtown Boston?” We did that. And Tony said, “Many of the students have never been to Boston before. Why not take them to a baseball game one evening? Take them on a Duck Tour? Have a lobster night?” Done, done, done.

And we found that SMIP students loved these events, because they got to know their peers from departments across the country. They continued their classroom discussions in these low-key, social environments, and they often made friendships that lasted a lifetime.  Every year when we ask SMIP students for feedback, they consistently tell us that these opportunities are one of the best aspects of SMIP.

So Tony Narr took SMIP to a completely different level, and it has emerged as a powerhouse, graduating more than 5,000 people over the years, with a waiting list every year.

When you ask innovative and thoughtful police chiefs to name the defining moments of their careers, they inevitably mention their time spent in Boston at SMIP. This experience with a great faculty and peers from across the country has fostered some of the most iconoclastic police leaders of our time.

Through all of this, Tony and I became great friends. For 28 years we’ve been roommates in the dorms at SMIP, staying with the students.  People say, “Why would you stay in the dorms instead of a hotel?” And we say, “Why wouldn’t we stay in the dorms?”  After all those years, we’re like the Odd Couple, except we’re both Oscar. 

Everyone loves Tony.  He’s one in a million. His legacy will live on because of the high standards he has set for SMIP.  I wish Tony and his wife Cindy and their family all the happiness they deserve, as Tony can finally take a break and enjoy life.

Below is a photo of Tony with his daughter Lisa and his son Blake, taken last year at a dinner we had to honor Tony and other PERF staffers who have been with us more than 20 years. If Tony looks a bit emotional, it’s because he was surprised to see his kids at the party.

The other photo is Tony and me back in the early days. 

PERF’s Weekend Clips are below. 








Weekend Clips

Mpls.St.Paul Magazine: Q&A: Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo

Medaria Arradondo, the Minneapolis chief of police, talks about what cops get wrong, what Trump thinks about the city, and why he sits in on the interview for every single new hire.


Boulder (CO) Weekly: There’s a new chief in town

On April 20, Boulder’s new, and first female, police chief started work in the midst of a global pandemic and public health crisis. Maris Herold comes to the People’s Republic from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she served in the city’s police department for more than two decades, most recently as the chief of University of Cincinnati Police Division. Boulder may not have the same challenges as Cincinnati, where law enforcement often deals with “gang violence and shooting environments,” Herold says, but she plans to use her background to implement innovative and progressive police reform and improve community relations. 

Boulder Weekly caught up with Herold after her first week on the job to talk about her vision for the city, how she plans to engage underrepresented populations, and booster both community and officer morale. 


13 News Now: Virginia Beach Police Chief readies for next chapter in his life

After 44 years on the beat, Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera looks ahead at "Chapter 2" of his life.

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