Chief Peter Newsham talks to FOX 5 about policing in a pandemic

Law enforcement agencies across the country have had to make major protocol charges to continue protecting the public while also keeping their officers safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

DC’s Police Chief Peter Newsham spoke to FOX 5's Shirin Rajaee about policing practices during the health crisis. This as dozens of MPD officers have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are in quarantine for potential exposure.

As of April 22, 85 officers have tested positive for coronavirus and about 170 are in quarantine.


Chief Newsham says it raises staffing concerns, but the department has not reached a threshold yet where they’d have to take more drastic measures.

Newsham adds that ultimately the safety of communities is not impacted. 

"On any given day, we can allow 15 percent of our force to be out, so to lose that number of 170 officers is not gonna impact performance in any shape or form," said Chief Newsham. 

He says all MPD officers are screened for COVID-19 when they come to work; they get temperature checks and all prisoners are also screened. 

The Chief says officers can wear masks -- but are not required to during their shift only if they're going into a grocery store/food establishment or when dealing with vulnerable populations, such as hospitals and nursing homes. 

"We want them to wear a mask when they have to, but we don't want to overwear them so we run out of masks for our members. We're being cautious about consumption," he said.   

Newsham says police officers in the City's 6th District are being disproportionately affected, most of the positive cases are in that region. 

And so, if there's a resource gap in any district, the Chief says he's taken people from their Police Academy and put them in the field. He can also pull from specialized units such as Homeland Security and Narcotics.  

But he says it's not ideal due to possible cross-contamination. 

"Generally we're trying to stop people from moving from different elements, because you could be moving someone who's infected and not showing symptoms and move him somewhere else and create a situation. So we're trying to be thoughtful of that," said Newsham. 

The D.C. Chief also spoke about the emotional toll the pandemic is having on first responders. 

He says his 3,900 member team is not only concerned about themselves and their fellow officers but about their families at home. Two officers are hospitalized due to Covid19, and while one is expected to recover well, the other officer is in serious condition 

"We are certainly concerned for him. He's on a ventilator. He did had a preexisting condition. And so when we're going to work, we're all thinking of him, and hoping he recovers," said Newsham.  

Making arrests has also transitioned from being a common tool used by law enforcement to becoming a tool of last resort. And when it comes to enforcing COVID-19 social distancing rules, he applauds the city of D.C. for cooperating. 

"Fortunately, we haven't had to make arrests, but we will if we have to. But it's going to be counterproductive if we have to make arrests," said Newsham. 

As far as the D.C. businesses shut down due to the health crisis, Chief Newsham said they've increased patrols around the business districts, especially overnight. 

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