March 18, 2020 | View as webpage

While the news and information around the COVID-19 pandemic changes on a near-hourly basis, there is one constant: Public safety professionals are on the frontlines of the response to this unprecedented public health crisis, working 24/7 to protect civilians nationwide.

Police1 is committed to seeking out the top resources and content to help you navigate this demanding period and effectively serve both your officers and your communities. In this Leadership Briefing, Chief Joel Shults identifies some of the lessons we have already learned about LE response to the coronavirus pandemic that can be immediately implemented, while Mountain View PD’s social media coordinator Katie Nelson offers three steps agencies can take to authentically communicate COVID-19 information to citizens.

How are you communicating with the public you serve? Email links to your social media messaging about COVID-19 to

Nancy Perry, Editor-in-Chief
Policing in a panic: COVID-19 response lessons agencies should immediately implement
By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

The debrief on the COVID 19 pandemic could take as long as the disease wave itself. However, there are plenty of lessons already identified that can be implemented now.


FEMA's National Incident Management principles, beginning with establishing command and staging areas, should be established at the soonest point when any event demands an unusual number of resources. These principles should be routinely put into play more frequently than is commonly practiced in most agencies. Events that engage multiple agencies can become harder to manage by the minute if efficient lines of authority and communication are not established in a timely manner.

One voice

During times of crisis and chaos, one of the most distressing experiences for the public is to get conflicting information from authoritative sources. Also distressing to the public is waiting for that information after hearing a flurry of claims across a host of media platforms. A unified, authoritative and timely message is essential to overcome the inevitable misinformation propagated on social media.

The conflict between getting information out fast and guaranteeing its accuracy is challenging. For this public health crisis, the focal point for information should be health officials, but the questions inevitably come to police leaders because of the general public trust in the authority and responsiveness of law enforcement. As key members of any emergency operations group, law enforcement should defer to specialists whenever possible, and be willing to be truthful about unknowns and failures.

Service limits

When demands overwhelm an agency’s capacity for a quick response, communication with the public should be swift and honest. Many police departments attempt to be full service with an officer dispatched for all reports. Others take relatively minor incident reports by phone, or offer online reporting. Having the capacity to increase automated or remote report taking will reduce citizen frustration and fear. This may be a great time for an existing volunteer cadre to spring into action taking initial reports instead of patrol officers or dispatchers.

Reducing discretionary contacts has been implemented by many police agencies. Restrictions on arrests for non-violent offenses is another strategy to avoid interpersonal contact that could spread the coronavirus to officers and in detention facilities. Whether those reduced enforcement strategies should be publicized is an open question.

First responder preparation

Police officers should know that they will not be immune to the effects of a disaster in their community. Unfortunately, many officers do not face that reality by preparing for themselves and their families.

Departments should encourage their staff – both uniformed and support – to be informed about the kind of preparedness we preach to others. Officers should have several days of essentials ready for evacuation, cash, a reunification plan, secured vital documents, emergency child care and all the other things recommended by FEMA.

Economic strains

It’s too late to talk about having an emergency fund in place before this crisis, but families should attempt to have six months of expenses readily available. Too many police families live paycheck to paycheck. If one member of a household contributor to the family finances becomes unemployed or underemployed, it can take months to get the budget back in balance. Officers whose off-duty employment has become essential for basic bills can lose that income when required to work double shifts and days off.


Most crises and disasters have a recognized impact on first responders. Donations, free massages, crisis debriefings and aftercare are available for officers working earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, terrorism and civil disturbances. The COVID-19 pandemic does not present the same face to law enforcement and the public, so services that would normally be provided to officers (as rare as even those may be) might not be on the radar in a health crisis.

Police leaders must recognize the mental fatigue this public health event imposes on their officers. Wellness services, as well as personal protective gear, accurate information and relevant emergency policies, will be needed to sustain the efforts of law enforcement for both the short- and long-term duration of this unprecedented crisis.

Additional resources:
Building a Gun Range? We’re Your One-Stop Shop
Whether you’re designing your first gun range or upgrading an existing firearms training facility, Meggitt Training Systems is here to help. From indoor and outdoor shooting range design and ventilation to target carrier and ballistic containment, we’ll provide the critical information to put your mind at ease throughout the process. Our live fire equipment, customer support, site planning, turnkey design, installation, training, maintenance, inspection, and logistical support provides a foundation for project success, both short and long term.
Click here for more info!
3 steps to effective community communications during a national emergency

By Katie Nelson

As law enforcement personnel remain on the front lines when it comes to not only protecting and serving their communities, but communicating with residents while we all weather the storm of COVID-19, the focus must be one of assuredness and humanity. Now more than ever is the time to be a good neighbor.

1. Speak with emotion  

Police agencies should look to message with their community’s concerns at the forefront of their minds, but they must speak and write in a way that allays fears, not elevates them. This is the time to speak human to human, because quite simply, we cannot overpower or overcome emotion with facts. We must know how to relate to our communities, we must understand how they are feeling, and we must do our best to help them recognize that throughout all of this, we have their backs.

2. Set the tone that works for your department

It is important to help amplify messages from county and state health officials, but with your own voice and tone. These are trying times for millions of people, and your message could very well reach beyond the confines of your jurisdiction. You are speaking to a much larger audience than you may know, so whatever is posted, particularly on social media, make sure it is approachable. Many are looking for a source of comfort right now, not one that exacerbates their concerns. They want answers, but they also want to know they have someone to talk to should they need those avenues.

3. Be a primary source of information

While we may be shifting away from proactive policing on our beats, we must excel at community policing in a digital space. This isn’t just about making sure the law is enforced, and that people understand their new parameters – particularly if they are living in a county or city that has called for home isolation. This is about having a conversation, and rising above the noise (appropriately) so that your digital, as well as physical communities, know to turn to you as a primary source of information.

This is a serious situation for both our community and our colleagues – now is not the time for ill-placed humor. However, this serious situation comes with serious opportunities for you, as a law enforcement agency, to shine. This is a moment in time that we must look back on and know that we messaged well, we messaged right and we messaged in those moments when our community truly needed us.

About the author

Katie Nelson is the social media and public relations coordinator for the Mountain View Police Department (MVPD) in northern California. Before joining the MVPD, she worked as a public safety reporter for papers including the San Jose Mercury News, the East Bay Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is an award-winning journalist for her breaking news coverage of the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport and her investigative work on the state Department of Social Services led to major legislative reform to protect elderly residents in California. Connect with Katie on Twitter at @katienelson210

Additional resources:
spacer.gif Top Tweet: Words of reassurance during a national emergency

spacer.gif Be Advised
3.  COVID-19 clearinghouse supports LE response: The IACP has launched a centralized clearinghouse to provide the resources departments need to keep officers and their communities safe as the spread of COVID-19 continues.

2. Social distancing to control COVID-19 spread: Public safety organizations should consider these actions to reduce opportunities for COVID-19 transmission.

1. “We may not have all the answers”: Community education in action: Law enforcement agencies nationwide are using the power of social media to educate their communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Police1 does not send unsolicited messages. You are receiving this email because you have signed up for Police1 and subscribed to this newsletter. Click here to unsubscribe. Visit our Customer Support page to report any email problems or subscribe to our other newsletters.