What Campus Police and Security Officers Need to Know and Do in Response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Sheldon Greenberg, PhD, March 29, 2020

This document is provided as a resource for campus law enforcement and security personnel, specifically uniformed personnel, regarding the novel coronavirus, designated as COVID-19.  The nature of their work requires that campus officers be vigilant and take reasonable precautions to protect themselves, their colleagues, and those they serve.  Campus police and security officers are and will be primary players in preventing and responding to COVID-19. Colleges and universities have received high-priority attention as the nation seeks to prevent and resolve COVID-19 risk and consequences.  Open campus environments, students travelling to and from other nations, deferred or postponed classes, students remaining in dorms, imposed quarantine, self-quarantine, maintaining ongoing campus-based research initiatives, and relationship to surrounding communities are among the issues impacting the responsibilities, capabilities, and resource of campus police and security agencies.  As the COVD-19 pandemic has evolved, some campuses have been vacated while others continue to allow students to live in dorms.  Of necessity, many campuses allow research and other essential activities that cannot be postponed or discontinued due to the virus. While this document focuses on the role of uniformed police and security officers, other campus public safety employees will benefit from its content.  This document contains the following:

  1. Overview of COVID-19.
  2. Issue and Facts – explaining the tasks and characteristics differentiating campus officers from other human service workers in response to an epidemic or pandemic.
  3. What Campus Police and Security Officers Should and Could Do – providing detailed suggestions and considerations for managing daily operations, handling calls for service, protecting the campus community, and more.

The information provided in the following sections reflects input from public health and emergency health officials; police and security officers, supervisors and executives; and fire/EMS officials. The recommendations are grouped into five categories:

  1. personal protection
  2. importance of accurate information and information sharing
  3. calls for service, mobile patrol, and stationary security
  4. equipment and vehicle
  5. quarantine, special events, large groups, and special circumstances

Campus officers should apply what they deem appropriate based on their well-being, people’s need, college or university guidelines, workload and type of activity, experience, and instinct.



Clinical information, recommended preventive measures, and potential intervention strategies are changing rapidly in response to COVID-19.  Information provided in this document may become dated as research progresses and new data emerges. 

According to the CDC, coronavirus is a group of viruses common throughout the world in people and different species of animals.  COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).  WHO announced that the global spread of COVID-19 is a public health emergency of international concern.  This designation is rare and was applied in only five previous infectious disease outbreaks.  COVID-19 has been designated as a pandemic, defined as outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.  Unless provided by reliable sources such as WHO and the CDC, some of the statistics, recommendations, and information being disseminated on COVID-19 may be incomplete or inaccurate should be received judiciously. 

In regard to current risk, the CDC reports:

  • COVID-19 is contagious.
  • For most of the American public, exposure to the virus and the immediate health risk from COVID-19 remains low.  Most people who contract the virus recover well.
  • People in communities where ongoing spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure.

Spread of the virus is most likely to occur when there is close proximity to someone who is infected. The risk increases when this contact is prolonged. The virus is spread primarily through respiratory secretions such as droplets and aerosols when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The secretions can be directly transferred into the mouth, nose, and eyes of another person.  The virus can be transmitted through surfaces or objects that are handled by someone who then touches his or her mouth, nose, or eyes.  Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of other illnesses – fever, sneezing, coughing, and breathing difficulties.  People who are older, have weakened immune systems, and/or underlying medical conditions are more likely to develop severe complications including pneumonia, organ failure, or even death.

The novel coronavirus is “out of the norm.”  Prevention and response tactics continue to evolve.  Vaccine is in development and likely to take 12 to 18 months before ready for widespread dissemination.  Campus police and security personnel should assume that global and national efforts to deal with COVID-19 will continue in earnest for some time.

Issue and Facts: Frontline Campus Police and Security Officers and COVID-19

Issue and Facts: Frontline Campus Police and Security Officers and COVID-19

Campus public safety agencies vary considerably and encompass full-service police departments, security departments, contractual security, and a combination of these and other services.  Campus agencies consist of police officers, special police officers, certified security officers, and civilian personnel. They serve campuses that equal large cities in size and activity and small campuses that consist of one or two buildings.  Many campus public safety agencies protect high-security and research facilities that require 24-hour monitoring.

There are characteristics of campus police and security officers that separate them from other frontline practitioners in time of crisis.  Providing information on these characteristics is fundamental to advancing understanding of and support for campus public safety as police and security officers become increasingly involved in preventing and responding to COVID-19.

The following information cites the responsibilities and scope of work, expectations for, demands imposed on, and risks assumed by campus police and security officers in response the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Campus police and security officers respond to any situation to which they are called or when they observe a need. They are first responders and the most visible representatives of the college and university administration in time of crisis.  This will not change, regardless of the type or scope of the event, circumstance, problem, or threat.
  • Campus police and security officers are often the first responders to 911 calls for an ambulance to aid someone on or near the college or university.
  • Campus police and security officers go places, work hours, come into contact with people, and observe occurrences that vary from other college, university, city, and county workers.
  • Campus patrol and security officers routinely move toward the element of danger and, most often, without concern for self.
  • Students, faculty, and staff rely on their campus public safety personnel to minimize their fears and provide reassurance through response to their immediate needs, rapid problem-solving, and high-visibility presence.
  • In many cases, a call to campus police and security officers will have nothing to do with the presence of an illness or disease. Responding campus officers may learn of the presence of a virus or other illness while or after addressing the primary issue. 
  • Generally, campus police and security officers are not trained to recognize or respond to communicable disease.
  • Members of the college or university community and surrounding neighborhoods depend on and trust their campus public safety agency and particularly their officers for accurate information in time of crisis. People will ask campus police and security officers for information about COVID-19 and expect them to have answers.
  • A campus officer who is exposed to COVID-19 (or any infectious disease) will come into contact with possibly dozens of people by the end of his or her shift. As such, a campus police or security officer may be both first responder and first transmitter.
  • Campus public safety officers routinely interact with vulnerable populations including people who have disabilities, young people who are away from home, people with limited access to health care, and others.
  • Rapid support for campus police and security officers from other service providers (health, counseling) may not be available depending on time of day and day of week.
  • Campus police and security officers are “first protectors” of others who are required to remain on campus including faculty, staff, health workers, counselors, and others. They may be called to protect campus officials who are confronted with threat, hostility, and disorderly conduct by students, people in nearby communities, and others who fear infection or are infected with COVID-19 and demand service.
  • Campus police and security officers may be called to enforce court-ordered quarantine, and college or university-imposed quarantine.
  • Campus officers will be called to provide security, monitoring, and intervention when campuses and campus-related events are shut down. Campus public safety personnel have responsibility for protecting and controlling ingress and egress at numerous on and off-campus facilities during periods of shut-down.
What Campus Police and Security Officers Should and Could Do

What Campus Police and Security Officers Should and Could Do

The following guidelines and suggestions for campus public safety personnel are grouped into five categories: personal protection; importance of accurate information and information sharing; calls for service and while on patrol; equipment and vehicle; and quarantine, large groups, and special circumstances.  Officers should maintain perspective and apply what they deem appropriate based on people’s need, department guidelines, workload and type of activity, experience, and intuition.

      A. Personal Protection

  1. Make prevention a personal priority to reduce exposure and risk. Recognize that exposure can come from someone in the community who is asymptomatic.  Exposure may also come from friends and neighbors.
  2. Get a flu shot (encouraged or required by most departments). Encourage family members to get flu shots.
  3. Check with a campus or personal physician to ensure that other immunizations such as tetanus are up to date.
  4. Avoid increased vulnerability due to a personal pre-existing condition. Inform campus personnel and public safety agency officials if a personal pre-existing condition exits that may increase risk or endanger health.
  5. Wash hands frequently. Reinforce to other campus officers that hand hygiene is a standard precaution and among the most effective ways to prevent transmission.  Remember that handling someone’s ID card or license and registration, evidence, and other tasks are physical contacts that warrant immediate hand cleaning.  
  6. Avoid touching face, nose, eyes, and mouth after handing a call for service or other activity until hands are washed.
  7. Carry a personal sanitizing kit on every shift. Carry disposable gloves.  Carry hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap, bottled water, paper towels, and large plastic bags.  Put used items in a plastic bag and tie/seal it.  Label the bag.  Follow college, university, or local or state health department protocols for disposal.
  8. Avoid touching or leaning against furniture, vehicles, or other objects. Avoid using handrails.
  9. Avoid shaking hands.
  10. Take sick leave if feeling ill, particularly if symptoms include fever and respiratory problems. Illness of almost any type can cause immune deficiency.  Do not take chances.
  11. Know who to contact in the agency and/or other campus office if concern or suspicion about personal exposure to COVID-19 arises.
  12. If personal exposure to COVID-19 becomes a concern, begin self-quarantine. Avoid contact with others until guided by an agency official or health professional on how to proceed. 
  13. If personal exposure to COVID-19 becomes a concern, prepare a list of recent contacts including people on and near campus and peers. Include the building(s) or other location of the contacts.    
  14. Discuss risk of and response to personal exposure with family members, friends, and others who may be concerned. Offer perspective supported by evidence and agency information.  Provide them with an agency or other campus contact if needed to gain additional information and support.     

    B. Importance of Accurate Information and Information Sharing

  1. Follow college or university and local and state health department policy, directives, and guidelines. Inform agency and/or other campus officials if there is conflict in the information being provided and seek clarity.
  2. Routinely check updates and other information published by the CDC. The CDC has been providing information specific to the needs of public safety personnel.
  3. Speak to the facts and guide others to do the same. Avoid participating in and fostering rumor, misperception, and myth.
  4. Report the suspicious and unusual. Recognize that in a health crisis, the smallest or most innocuous piece of information may prove incredibly valuable. Assume that campus and public health officials will value any information provided as a potential piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle.
  5. During calls for service and other activities, campus officers may observe people who exhibit symptoms. Know who to contact if suspicion arises about a person on campus who may have COVID-19.  Until the agency provides contact information, report the circumstances to dispatch or the local health department.  Do not hesitate.  The information may be invaluable to campus and public health officials in tracing sources and containing exposure.
  6. Expect questions. Know the college or university referral offices and be prepared to provide people with accurate and timely information on how and where to get answers to their questions about COVID-19.  If available, carry brochures, fact sheets, and web and social media contact information to provide to people.
  7. Bring attention to COVID-19 contacts and issues when preparing incident reports. Go beyond including information in report narratives.  Contact a supervisor or dispatch to expand incident classifications and use other means to ensure that rapid attention is drawn to the COVID-19 information.   
  8. Offer suggestions through channels. COVID-19 is a new virus and approaches to prevention and response are evolving.  Ideas to better serve people in need, protect personnel, and foster effective agency policies and practices are needed from police and security officers on the frontline. 

     C. Calls for Service and Operations

  1. Informally discuss varied scenarios with squad/shift members to develop a common approach to responding as primary and back up to calls for service and others situations on and near campus in which there is risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  2. Know the call-taker/dispatcher protocols related to calls for service and other situations that may involve people who are ill.
  3. Drive with windows open (at least partially) to ventilate the patrol vehicle.
  4. If working a stationary post, know and implement the disinfection protocols. Ask when the area was last disinfected.
  5. Wear protective gloves in any situation that involves touching another person. If more than one person is involved, change gloves between contacts (if possible).
  6. If a dispatched call for service specifically cites involvement of a person with acute infectious respiratory symptoms, notify fire/EMS and approach with protective gear (approved mask and gloves).
  7. When arriving at a call for service and if the circumstance allows, make an initial inquiry about whether anyone in the room or area is ill.
  8. If exposure to COVID-19 is suspected and the circumstance allows, casually ask the person who initiated the call for service and others involved to meet outside of the building.
  9. Ask follow-up questions. When handling calls for service, campus police and security officers may come in contact with people who appear ill or know others who are ill. They often are willing to provide details about their contacts, travels, and experiences.  Inquire, but do not assume the person has COVID-19.  Pursue the following:
    • How long has the person been ill?
    • Has he or she or someone he or she knows recently traveled out of the country?
    • Where has the person been recently on and off campus?
    • Was he or she exposed to someone else with a similar illness? If so, where and when?
    • What does he or she know or perceive about the illness (what it is, symptoms)?
    • Does the person have fever and respiratory problems?
    • How long have the symptoms been present?
    • Is he or she under a doctor’s care? Who is the physician?
    • Has he or she remained stable, improved, or gotten worse?
  1. Know the procedures for reporting a situation in which the involved person (people) recently travelled from a quarantined area or high-incident state or nation and feels ill.
  2. Minimize exposure (time and distance) to people who exhibit flu-like symptoms. Limit time spent.  If the situation allows, stand six or more feet away from the person or people involved.  Keep similar distance from routine contacts.
  3. Encourage some immediate form of quarantine when a person on campus suspects that he or she has or has been exposed to COVID-19. Suggest that the person stay away from others (at least six feet) and remain in a separate room until he or she makes contact with or is contacted by health authorities.    
  4. Protect back up officers. If threat of exposure to COVID-19 (or other infectious disease with similar symptoms such as influenza) is present, notify back up officers and supervisors.  Provide detailed information to back up officers on approach and positioning (including directive to delay or end response).
  5. If required to go to a campus health clinic or nearby medical center or emergency room for follow up to a call and there is any suspicion of exposure, call ahead to determine risk and needed safety measures.

D. Equipment and Vehicle

  1. Take inventory of supplies and equipment (such as hazmat kits, first-aid supplies, and personal protection equipment) that were issued personally or are in the patrol vehicle. Determine wear and tear, expiration dates, and anything else that might inhibit effectiveness.  Inquire about replacing outdated or worn equipment and materials.   
  2. Know the purpose and proper use of protective gear (mask/respirator, goggles, face shields, coveralls, gloves, etc.) Make no assumptions about protection/prevention/safety beyond the stated intent of the equipment. If uncertain about the capabilities of protective gear, make inquiry.  If not provided, get accurate information about (and approval to use) personal protective gear before making purchase.  Unless specified as reusable and disinfected after use, dispose of protective gear (following agency or health department guidelines).
  3. Practice using protective gear to ensure fit and become familiar with use.
  4. If exposure to CCOVID-19 is likely and no other protective wear is available or fits the situation, wear a rain jacket for added protection.
  5. Disinfect the patrol vehicle when starting a shift and after transporting people. If using a shared vehicle, do not rely on the officer from a previous shift to do it.  Purchase, carry and use readily available disinfectant wipes (sprays are not recommended).  Wear gloves and other protection when cleaning the vehicle.  
  6. Disinfect duty belt (equipment belt/gun belt) and other personal gear (including tactical vest) at the end of each shift or during the shift if concerned about exposure. Disinfect handcuffs after an arrest.  If concerned about exposure, seek guidance from the agency and/or health department about protocols and other steps related to disinfecting equipment.
  7. If exposed to COVID-19 or concerned about the possibility of exposure, dead line the patrol vehicle. Know the department’s protocol for dead lining and, if needed, labeling a vehicle that may be contaminated.  Make notification about the location of the dead lined vehicle.

E. Quarantine, Groups, and Special Circumstances

  1. Know how the agency and squad/shift leaders want campus police and security officers to provide support and protection to campus health workers.
  2. If not provided, inquire about protocols for responding to the campus medical clinic or other on-campus medical offices when someone suspected of having COVID-19 becomes irate or aggressive about testing or treatment.
  3. If not provided, inquire about policies and protocols for coordinating and enforcing court-ordered or administratively-ordered quarantine on campus. Inquire about quarantine processes and enforcement authority and action related to individuals and facilities.
  4. When questioning prisoners after an arrest, ask questions about health and exposure.
  5. Know the policies and protocols related to quarantine of and medical contingencies for prisoners. If COVID-19 is suspected, notify a supervisor and/or dispatch before taking the prisoner to a lockup facility or turning the prisoner over to local or state police.
  6. Know how the agency and squad/shift leaders want campus police and security officers to respond to and manage special events and other situations that may involve groups or crowds, especially if number of people allowed to congregate has been set administratively or by law for buildings, businesses, and open areas.
  7. Monitor and be an advocate for other campus police and security officers. Observe the activities of other officers and advise them immediately when they’ve done something that increases their risk of exposure.  
  8. If personally quarantined by the agency and/or medical/public health authority, follow guidelines and keep perspective. Quarantine is a preventive measure.  If details are not provided ask about procedures to be followed, particularly as they relate to contact with and possible quarantine of family members, length of time, access to daily essentials, etc.      

Protecting the campus community’s health routinely and in time of crisis is an interagency, multi-sector, cross-profession responsibility.  COVID-19 presents an opportunity to bring campus police and security together with health authorities in new ways to protect people in need and the nation’s colleges and universities.  Campus police and security officers are an exceptional resource to serve as the extended eyes, ears, messengers, and problem-solvers on behalf of the public health community.  More than ever, they are first-on-the-scene “public health interventionists.”

References and Sources for Additional Information

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