The Lasting Impact of COVID-19 on Law Enforcement

The Lasting Impact of COVID-19 on Law Enforcement

The pandemic upended day-to-day life dramatically and law enforcement continues to be on the front lines of that reality. More police services are being delivered remotely and officers are having fewer proactive interactions with the public. The pandemic—and the widespread economic hardship that has accompanied it—has also left communities and the officers that protect them forced to adjust to a new normal.

Law enforcement agencies had to act quickly when the first COVID cases were identified to keep things running smoothly. But now, a couple years in, we can reflect on how some public safety agencies have adapted their policies and practices in this new normal. If your agency is looking to incorporate new policies and practices into your day-to-day operations, here are three suggestions on how to get started:

Use of technology to bridge the gap.

Of all government services, law enforcement is one of the most challenging to deliver remotely. Successful policing is the result of building trust, and many assume that means face-to-face interactions. But technology holds tremendous potential for law enforcement to respond to citizens while staying safe. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, most agencies now respond to at least 10% of dispatched calls by phone or video—and that number is sure to rise. Another way agencies are addressing non-violent situations is using teletherapy – behavioral health professionals can connect with residents via video call to diffuse and resolve situations. As law enforcement agencies adapt to COVID’s impact, they must be open to technology bolstering their current services, allowing them to safely serve and protect their residents.

Develop new approaches to build community relations to replace some of the traditional in-person events.

Building trust doesn’t just happen when responding to calls. Law enforcement facilities have long been open to the public, which helps build community relationships. In the wake of COVID, public access to many facilities has been limited. Agencies have also suspended in-person community engagement programs like ride-alongs and community meetings. But citizens shouldn’t feel shut out of their local police department. If someone needs to meet with an officer, create a policy which allows residents to speak with them in a safe environment, such as outside or with distancing measures in place. Additionally, use technology to move some of the more popular events online. Consider live-streaming community meetings and popular programs to promote police/community engagement.

Implement new officer wellness strategies.

Adapting to COVID-19 isn’t just about making sure communities and residents remain safe. The pandemic has been tremendously stressful for police officers and agencies must be attuned to their employees’ physical and mental health. In Georgia, the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office takes the temperature of all personnel who enter the facility, while the Chicago Police Department is keeping its medical office open around the clock. But preventing the spread of the virus is only one component of officer wellbeing. Stress is also at an all-time high, which is why many agencies are finding new ways to offer support. In New Jersey, the Evesham police chief has begun to send a member of the department’s wellness committee to every roll call to answer questions or provide support, while the Miami Police Department has a peer support team to check in on any isolated employees. Technology can also help agencies better support their employees, demonstrated by some chiefs using video updates or calls to explain new procedures, address employee concerns, and connect as an organization.

The bottom line

Adapting to the pandemic continues to be a challenge for law enforcement agencies across the country, but public safety agencies are also proving to be quite nimble. Agencies must continue to improve their policies and practices to accommodate the lasting impact of COVID-19 on residents and employees alike. From new technology to different approaches to support officers, police departments need to continue to evolve. While the pandemic has presented many long-term challenges, it has also forced many agencies to become more innovative. Police must evolve to keep themselves and their communities safe, without sacrificing trust or safety.


-Chris Jacoby, Public Safety Practice Lead, Voyatek