COVID-19 impacted every part of our world — and law enforcement is no exception. The challenges faced by law enforcement departments and officers were unique and unprecedented, and some of the changes will be in place long after the pandemic ends. This includes adjusting protocol to increase safety and protection and ramping up efforts to combat cyberattacks.
First and foremost, as law enforcement officers still had to interact with the public, they put their lives at risk and were exposed to COVID-19. According to the Tampa Bay Times, COVID-19 killed more Florida police officers in 2020 than anything else: gun violence, car accidents, heart attacks or assaults. And this was the same nationally as well, with the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) tracking twice as many police deaths in 2020 than the year before.
There have been many changes to police operations due to COVID-19 and there is no foreseeable end to these new protocols. They enhance safety for officers and the public. For example, if an officer arrests a suspect with symptoms, they must determine if they should take the suspect to the police department or the hospital. In death investigations, additional protective gear is required regardless of the cause of death. And if a working canine has been exposed to a person with COVID-19, the CDC recommends contacting a veterinary clinic. Of utmost importance is to continue to serve without contributing to the spread of the virus.
Amidst lockdowns in certain areas of the country, law enforcement officers had to switch focus to maintain public order. For example, in Los Angeles, many detectives and other personnel were assigned to patrol highly visible areas while the sheriffs’ specialized units guarded crowded public places, like grocery stores. Tempe, Ariz., implemented two separate police officer working groups to take precautions against a spread and the entire department being exposed at once. This ensured coverage of the city while limiting exposure as much as possible. And the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department in Tennessee instituted a program for taking non-emergency and non-violent police reports over the phone instead of in person to limit unnecessary interaction.
New Threats in Cybersecurity
Another threat pertinent to law enforcement — and of growing concern due to COVID-19 — is cybersecurity. As companies accelerate their digital transformation and are operating completely virtually, they are at higher risks for cyberattacks. Reports show an increase in phishing attempts and studies show workers are not as diligent with cybersecurity measures working in the comfort of their own home compared to an office setting. Cybercriminals are also getting more brazen as they leverage the fear of the pandemic as part of their strategy to deceive innocent victims.
As if law enforcement duties weren’t hard enough, COVID-19 has certainly added challenges and pressure to the job description. But, as necessary to serve the public, sheriff’s offices and police departments have adjusted to ensure the safety of the public — and will continue to do so to protect and serve.