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Doing more with less: A COVID-19 checklist for police administrators

From understanding your PPE needs to handling an increased call volume with a reduced workforce, make sure you put these considerations on your to-do list


Supervisors need to become drills sergeant and tightly supervise officers’ contacts and verify they are using their PPE.

AP Photo/Mic Smith

Whenever budgets get tough, law enforcement is asked to do “more with less.” Now that we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, you had better plan to REALLY do more with less.

Here are six items that should be on every police administrator’s to-do list.

1. Manage operations under ICS/NIMS

As a public safety director, I have been swamped developing contingency plans for my police officers, firefighters and 911 telecommunicators, while running everywhere you can think of to locate N95 masks and gloves. But with those tasks accomplished, I’m now waiting for the first confirmed case in our county. When that is verified, we will establish a countywide Emergency Operations Center using the Unified Command model.

Remember your boring Incident Command training a few years ago? All agencies MUST manage under the Incident Command System/Nation Incident Management System (ICS/NIMS) to get federal reimbursement through FEMA for personnel overtime, specialized equipment, etc. A nearby community here in Illinois was hit by an F3 tornado a couple of years ago and the police chief and mayor refused to join with the state emergency management’s command post and use ICS. They didn’t get a penny of federal reimbursement, but all the surrounding communities did.

2. Prepare for an increased call volume with a reduced workforce

Another thing you MUST factor into your COVID-19 planning is not only a massive call increase, but a reduced workforce from first responders testing positive, being isolated for 14 days due to potential exposure, or just staying home to take care of their families.

Below are plans we have developed for our 20 officer police department, 15 career firefighter department and 911 center. The DELTA level of our plans assumes we will have 50% or less of our responders reporting for duty.

Canton Police, Fire and PSAP COVID-19 Response Plan by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

3. Understand your PPE needs, then get supplies

The PPE needed for police officers under a “Level 2” response in our EMS system is nitrile gloves, eye protection (prescription glasses at a minimum, safety glasses with some side protection or goggles are best), and N95 masks.

The masks are the choke point for most police agencies. We had none in inventory at the PD as we had never needed them before, so I transferred a box of 20 from the fire department to get each police officer one mask to begin with. We were able to get another 100 from a medical supply house before they ran out. N95 masks are sometimes used by painters, so I got 30 more from the Farm Supply store paint department and another 15 from the local Sherwin Williams store. The Sherwin Williams manager had the N95 masks stashed in the backroom, per corporate guidance, on hold for public safety agencies, so check your local store.

Our statewide police mutual aid system had well over 100,000 N95 masks in inventory with a 2017 expiration date. They got special dispensation from the state public health agency to issue the expired masks (which I’m sure will work perfectly). They kept enough for the statewide SWAT and Mobile Field Force teams they oversee and transferred 100,000 to the State Emergency Operations Center for distribution state-wide. Under our rules in Illinois, the State EOC can make manpower, specialty teams, equipment and supplies state assets, which they allocate to the area in most need. This system also greatly simplifies reimbursement of overtime, etc.

4. Implement evolving arrest protocols

Our court system has broken down offenses into categories A & B. Only Category A arrests (basically violent felonies) will be accepted at county jails – all other cases will operate on catch & release principles by merely issuing them a Notice to Appear with a court date set well into the future. Some major cities are planning to release the majority of their inmates, which may cause additional law enforcement problems unrelated to COVID-19.

5. Take care of your officers

You will be called upon to do MUCH more with MUCH less in the next few weeks (not longer, we pray). In major urban areas, you could approach “walking dead” levels of disruption! Supervisors, your job is to keep your people alive! Become a drill sergeant and tightly supervise your officers’ contacts and verify they are using their PPE. If your department does not mandate body armor wear, preach hard for your officers to wear it. Set the example by wearing it yourself, even in the office.

6. Keep the peace

Since the editor has given me a bit of latitude, let me climb on my soapbox for a little fear-mongering. I think our country has been teetering on the brink of civil war for some time. If your city is like mine, the ammo shelves at gun stores are as empty as the toilet paper section in grocery stores. Both extremes of the political spectrum may use this emergency to try to force the entire nation to their image of Shangri-La. As a reminder, our job is NOT to take sides but to keep the peace. We can sort out the politics later.

Dick Fairburn has had more than 26 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming. He has worked patrol, investigations and administration assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst, and as the Section Chief of a major academy’s Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident Training program.