COVID-19 has severely impacted police and sheriff’s department operations throughout the country. Officers have given their lives to the cause; three New York Police Department (NYPD) personnel died from the virus within hours of each other. The pandemic’s impact will continue far into our future and law enforcement agencies are now facing increasing pressures – especially as municipal and county budgets dwindle and the need for public services rise.
Police leaders and other stakeholders need to begin preparing now, to protect not only officers and their families from the virus, but also the communities they serve. From our perspective – as independent, third-party experts who specialize in assessing police operations and recommending areas for improvement – we suggest, during this COVID-19 crisis, that law enforcement leaders take the following steps as soon as possible:
#1: Gather critical real-time information now to support your after-action review and identification of lessons learned.
Expect city and county leaders, as well as community members, to question how well prepared you were to respond to the pandemic, including the important role law enforcement agencies and your counterparts in fire and emergency services departments played. They may have already begun doing so. Be ready to explain how you plan to prepare for similar challenges in the future. Conducting an independent, third-party after-action review and report will go a long way toward addressing the questions about what went well and what could be improved. However, failing to gather critical information in real-time right now while you are responding to the pandemic crisis may undermine the impact, detail and integrity of your after-action report.
#2: Conduct a fresh staffing study to reprioritize your personnel resources as you juggle new operational priorities and challenges.
Budget impacts will require you, as a law enforcement leader, to reprioritize policing operations throughout your department, from patrol to investigations and radio communications to records management.
A Staffing Study is one of the best ways to determine if you are using your resources in the best way and helps you demonstrate how your department is using every last penny to deliver its critical services. The study will help determine whether:
- You have appropriately and efficiently assigned personnel based upon new operational realities.
- Your department has the capacity and funding to support any request for additional personnel in the middle of budget struggles, or whether anticipated budget reductions might require a very strategic and sensitive approach to reduce personnel.
- Assigning some of your civilian staff to help free sworn personnel from certain tasks could allow your officers and deputies to focus on front-line policing and investigative services while still meeting the demands of your department and community.
#3: Reassess your strategic plan and your approach to community policing.
Given what you’re learning from this crisis and to prepare for the budget impacts, your agency may need more than a Staffing Study to determine how to operate over the next three to five years. This requires updating your department’s Strategic Plan for all of your agency’s operations. Of special importance will be taking a fresh look at your Plan’s community policing portion.
With community members engaged in lengthy self-quarantine and social distancing efforts, some community-oriented policing activities may have fallen to low levels on your list of priorities. Though we have published guidelines for maintaining community policing during stay-at-home orders, significant changes may be needed in the future. This is especially true considering how law enforcement agencies have become more reliant and collaborative during this crisis with other public safety, public health and social services agencies. Why not build upon those relationships as you recover, thereby proactively creating a “new normal” for how you work with other agencies and the community to strengthen community policing efforts in our post-COVID-19 environment?
This may include updating protocols and provisions to allow for more virtual outreach with the community in the future, as well as learning how to formalize collaborative efforts with others as you work toward achieving what progressive agencies recognize as co-produced policing.
#4 Recognize the impact of vicarious trauma and be prepared to treat for it.
As of April 18, the New York Police Department had lost 29 members to the virus and states like Louisiana, California, Illinois and Florida have reported police deaths. Detroit has several officers in the hospital following their head of homicide’s passing.
While mourning those who are gone, your officers may be experiencing or later experience vicarious trauma, “a form of trauma that occurs when someone reads, hears or sees something about an event that causes them to have a post-traumatic stress response.” During the COVID-19 response, emergency service providers are experiencing this three-fold: (1)they respond to those who are suffering; (2) they see and hear about their coworkers suffering; and (3) they fear that they will bring the virus home, causing suffering among their family. These are real fears, and the effect on an officer’s physical and mental wellbeing can be severe. Assess your officers for signs of trauma and provide them with training on how to manage their symptoms.
Please know that our team of seasoned law enforcement leaders is dedicated to serving as your independent advisors and experts. We are here to assist you as you lead your agencies and communities through this COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath – and we would be honored to do so.
For more information on expert advisory services tailored to COVID-19 recovery operations, click here.