COVID-19 is ‘taxing on police chiefs’ but policing profession’s ‘strong mindset’, ‘public cooperation’, and ‘communication’ is going ‘incredibly well’

By Chief John Perez
City of Pasadena (CA) Police Department

As Chief of Police in the City of Pasadena (CA), I, along with all of my other colleagues in law enforcement, am responsible for guiding our police agency in this difficult time, as well as provide public safety services during the COVID-19 pandemic. This national emergency is unlike any other emergency or crisis law enforcement has ever prepared for. As many of us experienced the ’92 civil unrest as well as managed the many challenges of the post 9/11 environment, the lessons learned from those experiences are quickly assisting us in striking the right balance between protecting the safety of our officers, their families, and providing essential public safety services to our community. The inability to ensure we have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential supplies elevates the situation as well as the challenges of leading our workforces in these trying times.

Here is what we have experienced after nearly a month and I hope sharing this provides an understanding that we are in this together.

These are the worries all Police Chiefs and Sheriffs are confronting in our Departments:

  • Managing fears inside of our own Organizations and within the community is first on this list.
  • There is a high degree of public fear as we confront an enemy we cannot see nor hear and the future seems uncertain.
  • The public is fearful of civil unrest, rumors of military deployment, concerns for family members they cannot visit, as well as the real impact to our economy.
  • The news doesn’t make it easier with issues seen in other countries where bodies are placed in the streets for pickup. The level of fear is magnified with global events of how COVID 19 is being managed.
  • There are concerns and fears for police departments not being prepared as our officers want strong communication and leadership as we develop changes to our workforces and field procedures.
  • Our Officers want assurance they are being supported and that efforts are underway to protect them in the field and in our police stations.
  • This creates a feeling of a lack of control, low self-confidence, and concern for emotional well-being for first responders. These emotions derive from the same officer safety issues our profession has always encountered prior to COVID 19, but now includes our contact with everyone in the public and how we respond to calls for service and make arrests.
  • We also finish our longer workdays by cleansing thoroughly before or upon after arriving home with the lingering thought “Am I bringing it home to my family?”

Priority issues:

  • Safety of all personnel is the number one priority as well as ensuring their emotional wellness as first responders perform their duties in these difficult times.
  • The operational priority is controlling the quality and the speed of change in everything we are doing. Listening to first responders, other city departments, health industry experts, and the community requires constant effort and assessment.
  • The concern for police officer exposure rates and developing tactics and protocols to reduce exposures, as well as the concern for officers to bring the virus to work as they can catch it at the supermarket or from family members. We need to ensure we have our workforce ready to respond to calls for service and emergencies.
  • Leaders are ensuring that area police chiefs and department leadership teams are talking daily about the needed changes to protocols.
  • Making adjustments quickly while ensuring we are tracking, documenting, and sharing the changes in a quickly changing environment is critical.
  • Skilled nursing facilities—this is where the surge has come, as hospitals are losing bed space. The elderly are either being transported to hospitals or are transferred by fire paramedics or private ambulance. Fire Department medical calls are up in Cities as much as 68%. Emergency Room nurses are reporting the lack of resources is preventing the ability to provide better service or obtain more test results to work with. Our duty is to support them and we are quickly learning how we can.
  • The concern with release of prisoners, homeless population activity, and transitioning to video criminal arraignments are difficult issues to manage so rapidly. It is taxing on police organizations as we develop quality solutions in short spans of time.

Positive Outcomes and Overcoming the Challenges:

  • The policing profession is one of courage, commitment, and dedication to service. It is our mindset that makes us who we are, we are physically fit and practice good health habits which creates our foundation to our resilience.
  • We are constantly trained, educated, and prepared to confront the unknown and our will to always survive any encounter through adaptability and flexibility in changing environments is how we develop solutions to difficult problems.
  • Officers are adjusting practices, slowing down calls, communicating better, and connecting with Fire Departments as we respond to calls for service. The field and tactical changes are occurring daily and have made a tremendous difference in how we use PPE and other equipment.
  • Public cooperation is going extremely well and better than expected—clearly no one expected perfection, but overall the public is supportive, listening, and helping one another.
  • The COVID-19 challenge is the same in every city and town; however, the community and political environments are different for each agency. The connection among police chiefs is excellent and the dialogue is continual in assisting one another develop solutions within the varying environments.
  • We are collaborating with other department directors such as housing, human resources, IT, and others, as well as being supported by our Department’s City Managers and County CEO’s so we lead our Departments.
  • Fire and Police interaction has improved rapidly with a true partnership in developing field solutions to reduce exposure for public safety personnel.

As Howard Schultz said, “The issue of managing through a crisis is you have to be decisive even if you don’t have perfect information.” As the COVID-19 pandemic is quickly escalating and rapidly evolving, which may alter our response and protocols moving forward, our agency is working to make the best decisions based on the most up-to-date information. We are building a new reality around the world, and the policing profession will never be the same. We need to continue with many of the innovative solutions after COVID-19 is defeated and continue to focus on strong internal and external communication. Our partnership with the health and medical industry needs to continue to follow updates from trusted organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency. We need to stay aware of real news, not hype cycles, and we need to use “experts” and “forecasting” very carefully, while updating intelligence on a daily basis. As we prepare for a changed world and reflect on what we have learned, I have no doubt that the courage and resilience of the policing profession will carry us, and our communities, through the COVID-19 pandemic.  Please stay safe and thank you for all that you are doing during this incredibly challenging time.

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