How Law Enforcement Has Responded to the COIVD-19 Outbreak in the US

Prior to retiring from the New York City Police Department, Phil Pulaski oversaw a range of major investigations as the chief of detectives for the New York Police Department. Phil Pulaski’s career also involved working in other department areas, such as forensic science, information technology, and crisis and emergency management. The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has mobilized units across departments and prompted various response. Among other actions, law enforcement response to COVID-19 has included changing policing and internal procedures and implementing new enforcement practices for ordinances and safety measures related to the disease.

Modifications to policing operations and procedures comprise some of the most widespread reactions in agencies nationwide. Many departments have instructed officers to avoid handling minor issues in person and to limit enforcement actions and proactive interactions. For instance, several states directed officers to issue tickets and summons in place of arrests for low-level offenses and to deal with reports of nonviolent crimes via phone or online. According to a joint survey released in April by the Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy (CEBCP) on the impact of COVID-19 on law enforcement agencies, 76 percent of the agencies polled had provided formal guidance to officers on reducing arrests, and 61 percent adopted policies to limit traffic stops. Moreover, agencies implemented strict hygiene, safety, and physical-distancing standards between staff, and many law enforcement organizations are offering physical and mental-health wellness resources to support officers and first responders.

Warnings from health organizations worldwide against close physical proximity and gatherings also prompted police departments to take an active role in preventing public gatherings and enforcing social-distancing guidelines. In March, New York, New Jersey, and numerous other state police departments began to task officers with dispersing groups in public spaces and city streets. They also imposed restrictions on playgrounds, parks, sidewalks, and other places where people gather. Additionally, agencies created new beats dedicated to patrolling these areas, and some like those in San Jose, California, began visiting businesses to ensure compliance.