As Arrest Rates Fall, Police Focus on Quarantine Violators

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COVID-19 coronavirus digital art by Prachatai via Flickr.

A man stealing whiskey from a drugstore, a homeless man refusing to leave a hotel lobby, and a woman walking out of a grocery store without paying for $375 in food were among people the New Orleans Police Department arrested and booked into jail during the past 10 days, as it became clear that the city was at the center of one of the nation’s fastest-growing COVID-19 hotspots, the Washington Post reports. 

At a time when many law enforcement officials have released inmates and curtailed arrests to prevent a deadly outbreak in correctional facilities, police continue to arrest people for minor and nonviolent offenses, while stepping up a crackdown on Americans who flout social distancing measures.

A Tampa, Fl., pastor was arrested this week after he held services.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., a man was arrested for running an illegal club. Police say officers found 12 people drinking and gambling inside his club Saturday, although the club appeared to be closed from the outside and had no liquor license.

The business-as-usual approach taken by many citizens ignoring public health entreaties to stay at home endangers the police, the community and inmates, public health experts say.

“We need to treat this situation as if there is rising floodwater in the jail and there are only hours before people will drown,” said Jason Williams, a New Orleans City Council member who has called on police to suspend arrests for nonviolent crimes.

“Time is of the essence and right now the clock is running against us.” Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a stay-at-home mandate on March 20 in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing, which is all but impossible in a jail setting.

At the same time, police in New Orleans and some other places continue to lock people up for misdemeanor offenses unrelated to the COVID-19 epidemic, according to defense lawyers, union officials and court records.

“There is no change in arrest policy,” the police department said. “We’re issuing summons and citations where possible and appropriate.”

Nevertheless, arrests have dropped in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Miami, and other major cities, according to news reports.

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