Police ‘Tread Softly’ in Enforcing Stay-at-Home Orders

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Scene at Union Square Manhattan, as streets emptied of pedestrians. Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim, via Flickr

Across the U.S., violators of new rules that require staying at home and keeping your distance from others are most likely to get off with a warning. Police departments are “treading softly” as they navigate the demands of the coronavirus pandemic: how and when to enforce new safety regulations, and how to do regular work in the midst of a health emergency, the New York Times reports.

“This is a very, very stressful time, and we will approach our job with compassion,” said Maj. Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County, S.C., Sheriff’s Office, where Hilton Head beaches were closed to prevent large groups of spring break revelers.

Several police departments in places under restriction orders have taken an “education over enforcement” approach, preferring to warn people rather than to arrest them.

Much of the coronavirus action has been focused on businesses rather than on people. In San Jose, Ca., police plan to step up enforcement this week for businesses that have already been warned but have failed to close.

“We’re not going to stay ‘educational’ for long if people aren’t paying attention to this,” said Chief Eddie Garcia. Still, there have been few arrests so far related to the coronavirus across the U.S.

That was in contrast to the stringent approach of police forces abroad. In Jordan, 400 people were arrested after violating a nationwide curfew introduced on Saturday. A 26-year-old man was arrested on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, after “failing to self-isolate.” As of Friday, more than 31,000 people in Spain had been reported for not abiding by stay-at-home rules, said Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska.

During the Ebola epidemic, the Allegheny Bar Association noted that “due process” protections under the Constitution require that the imposition of quarantine or an isolation order not be “unreasonable, arbitrary or oppressive.” The last time any type of federal quarantine was used was during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-1919.

See also: CDC Fact Sheet on enforcing quarantine


3 thoughts on “Police ‘Tread Softly’ in Enforcing Stay-at-Home Orders

  1. We citizens should follow our city’s orders. It is our responsibility as a citizen. I really wonder why there are some violating and challenging city orders. Thanks for sharing this info. It’s worth my time reading this post.

  2. I agree! Defining law and order gets more complicated when people need to keep going outside to work just to eat. Or, in less dire cases, when a few twentysomethings sitting in the grass might be harmless, or might be reckless spreaders of contagion.

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