Covid-19 is impacting our society at every level. Federal and local governments are at the front lines of keeping the public safe. While justice and public safety executives are in the business of managing crises, from natural to man-made, the speed and impact of Covid-19 requires attention to formulating crisis management strategies while also sustaining essential community services. We see leaders putting people first during this pandemic – residents, consumers and the workforce. While countries manage public health, public safety, and public infrastructure during this period, we offer thoughts on how systems may change beyond the immediate crisis, as further fiscal and operational challenges accelerate. 

A roadmap for action

Our guide to navigating the crisis in both the near and medium term consists of four dimensions, all centered around people – residents, consumers and the workforce. While the “tunnelvision” effect of a crisis can be all-consuming, justice and public safety officials strive to challenge their senior teams to think beyond tactical responses to plan for recovery, rebalancing and restoration of essential services across a spectrum of public safety, ever constrained by cost.

1. Community 

Engage communities in confidence building activities (e.g. virtual town halls, confidence surveys), stablish/ report balanced community safety and success measures, and enhance triage for incoming lower-level demands. This is likely to enable rebalancing of capacity in shifts and patrols and allow investigative elements to maximize capacity to focus on reassurance.

2. Custody 

Expand risk-based tools for custody alternatives (e.g. citations, summons, electronic monitoring) to alleviate capacity/risk of spread for low-level (e.g. rule violations) or high-need (e.g. aging, chronic) populations, and enhance coordinated access to community mental health, substance abuse, primary care, and transitional housing programs/ supports to stabilize individuals.

3. Courts 

Virtualize judicial/legal interactions in/ out of custody/court settings, arrange for visiting judges,  optimize risk-based diversion/deferral tools, utilize risk-based release tools to focus limited community supervision capacity on highest-risk populations.

4. Cost 

With near-certain negative impact to general fund revenues, develop a 6-12 month cost containment and resource continuity plan around aligning hiring/ staffing and capital/operational spending to align to appropriations/ revenues. Leverage analytics to optimize resources to mitigate staffing shortages, overtime burnout, and safety/response goals.