Police taking soft approach to stay-at-home enforcement
With a sweeping stay-at-home order in effect across the Bay Area to halt the spread of coronavirus, businesses that stay open and people who are out and about during the next three weeks for anything outside an “essential” task or function are, technically, subject to a misdemeanor citation under the California Health and Safety Code.
In reality, that is far from how the order will be enforced, according to numerous local lawenforcement officials. For starters, there are an array of allowances and circumstances for who can be out and why— including walking the dog, or going on a hike or bike ride, as long as there is social distancing — it would be difficult to quickly discern a violation.
“This isn’t martial law. There
are so many exceptions to this quarantine, to think an officer is going to proactively stop people who are out, and go through a myriad of questions, is absolutely not realistic,” said San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia, whose department patrols the Bay Area’s largest city. “If anyone thinks someone is going to jail just based on this, that’s not happening. No one’s going to jail over this.”
Law-enforcement agencies are generally aligned on this point. San Francisco police Chief William Scott said Monday that SFPD is taking a “common-sense”
approach and that a misdemeanor citation “is an absolute last resort.” San Mateo police issued a public bulletin stating that “education will be our primary goal, leaving enforcement as our last option,” and San Mateo County Sheriff’s Lt. Stephanie Josephson said officers will be “interested in talking to people to gain voluntary compliance.”
Police agencies contacted by this news organization said cases willful disobedience — like a bar or restaurant opening its doors, or a huge house party — are among the few clear-cut examples in which a citation could be issued, but even then said they would be inclined to give warnings and order a place to close.
“Here’s the way we’re looking at this. If there’s a red zone on a curb, we expect that most good residents are not going to park in the red zone. Those who do, if an officer says to move, they will move,” Garcia said. “I’m hopeful this is how it will be.”
Garcia added that he expects the gravity of the coronavirus spread — the Bay Area has over 300 confirmed cases, including five deaths — will be enough incentive for residents to judicious about their public outings.
“The point of all this is to save lives,” he said, “so let’s all try to do our part.”