Our seventh white paper in the COVID series is “Policing in a Time of Pandemic: Recommendations for Law Enforcement,” by Rosa Brooks and Christy Lopez.
This white paper notes the novel law enforcement challenges created by COVID-19 and describes the different approach police must take in light of these challenges in order to serve their traditional public safety function. Traditional law enforcement practices such as stops, searches, and arrests currently create a substantial risk of infection for police, suspects and community members alike. We conclude that until stay-at-home and social distancing orders have been lifted, law enforcement agencies should suspend enforcement measures requiring close proximity or physical contact between law enforcement personnel and members of the public, except in cases where the failure to stop, search, or arrest a suspect creates an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to police officers or others. In particular, stay-at-home orders should not be enforced through arrests; instead, police should give oral or written warnings whenever possible, and the police role should focus on public education and connecting citizens to essential services. While citations and fines may at times be appropriate, states and municipalities should be cognizant of the hardship posed by fines during a period of economic crisis, and should consider suspending payment requirements for the duration of the crisis, with future consideration of blanket fine forgiveness programs and/or a retroactive income-based sliding payment scale. We also address some of the unique law enforcement challenges associated with protecting populations most at risk of violence and discrimination.