The Coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we operate at every level of our society. The security landscape is no different with dramatic and rapid changes rippling through our hardest hit cities. Strain on law enforcement resources and new security threats require security departments to craft focused and pro-active plans to protect their employees and facilities.
A challenge we must anticipate is the potential for reduced police force resources. PDs across the country are beginning to see a rise in COVID cases within their ranks. In New York City, over 800 NYPD officers tested positive for the virus as of Sunday (March 29) and more than 5,000 have called out sick. That represents roughly 13% of the force. With New York among the first and hardest hit cities in the country, the NYPD could be the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the country as the rate of new infections continues to grow. For now, Commissioner Shea has reassured New Yorkers, as quoted by CNN, "it's a struggle and we're pulling from different parts of the department, but we are very well resourced.” New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has warned, “Every police department has been advised to expect people to get ill. You’re talking about a public-facing agency.”
In some areas of the country, social distancing measures are accompanied by a decline in the arrest and prosecution of low level crimes, leaving businesses and the public at higher risk. Police in Fort Worth and Denver have stopped arresting people for some low-level crimes. The Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzales, has stopped prosecuting “low level offenses that don’t jeopardize public safety.” The Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner recently told staff not to seek pretrial detention for anyone charged with non-violent crimes. Examples of some crimes that may fall into these categories could include loitering, petty theft, or civil disturbances. Also across multiple New York metropolitan area prisons, hundreds of prisoners at high risk of coronavirus, who are imprisoned for misdemeanors or non-violent felonies, are being released.
Concerns over law enforcement capacity are amplified by recent reports of terrorist organizations targeting law enforcement by intentionally spreading COVID-19 infections. The FBI New York Office recently reported extremist groups are encouraging members to intentionally spread the virus to members of law enforcement and Jewish people. The pandemic has triggered some specific threats of violence against critical facilities, as we saw on March 20th when a Utah man threatened to bomb a local hospital after he was denied a coronavirus test. A few days later, the FBI identified a Missouri man who was found to be plotting an explosive attack against a Missouri hospital.
All of these new and evolving threats require us to remain vigilant and prepared. Businesses must prepare themselves with contingency plans in the distressing event law enforcement resources are strained. Critical institutions, such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations, power plants, grocery stores, pharmacies, and data centers, must be particularly vigilant. While organizations are focused on continuity of operations, security departments must ensure they are prepared for second and third degree consequences of the pandemic.
Consider the following training and preparedness guidance for your security force and enlist outside support as a stop-gap when needed. All security guards should be trained and prepared to:
- Vigilantly monitor facilities around the clock for unusual interest, suspicious note-taking, video footage, unidentified vehicles
- Identify probing questions or penetration testing
- Effectively and efficiently liaise with law enforcement in case it becomes necessary
- Identify potential civil disturbances and de-escalate threatening activity