Coronavirus: How police in Maryland, Virginia and DC plan to enforce stay-at-home orders

When the governors of Virginia and Maryland and D.C.’s mayor announced “stay-at-home” orders on Monday, many residents became concerned about whether they might be fined or arrested for just being outside.

Both D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Maryland State Police took steps Tuesday to assure residents that they would not be randomly questioned about their destinations or activities during the duration of the stay-at-home orders.

Other public safety agencies throughout the region updated their policies to reflect their states’ orders as the week progressed.

Here’s a compilation of what police and public safety agencies will be doing by region.


Mayor Bowser, at a briefing Tuesday morning, fielded a number of questions about her order, which goes into effect in D.C. at midnight.

She assured residents “there is no real difference” now that the order has taken effect compared to what has already been in place in recent weeks.

She said, while there are penalties available, “I don’t expect that we will have to use them — that’s certainly my hope.”

The District posted video on social media of an announcement over the loudspeaker of a police car parked near Lincoln Park on the east side of Capitol Hill


In part, the script read: “We are currently in a public health emergency. Your gathering puts both you and others at unnecessary risk. We encourage you to use proper social distancing and refrain from gathering in large groups. Failure to do so puts you all at risk …”

During a press briefing, Bowser said, “the point is not to arrest anybody; the point is to stay at home.”

She addressed the example of a pickup basketball game on a playground, saying that if a police officer observes this activity, the players will be reminded of social distancing rules and asked to disperse.


In Maryland, the state police posted a detailed memo related to how its troopers will carry out their duties during the order.

The memo noted “troopers will not make traffic stops simply to ask drivers where they are going to determine if their travel is essential or not.”

However, the state’s memo said that if police gather information during the normal course of their duties that an individual was carrying out nonessential business, that person could be penalized. That information could come during a routine traffic stop or during a crash investigation, for example.

Though it isn’t necessary for drivers in Maryland to have documentation detailing the purpose of their travel, “having such documentation may help resolve questions,” state police said in its memo.

In Maryland’s Montgomery County, the police said in a statement that the department will not “randomly stop community members for compliance checks.”

However, the county reserved the right to inquire about compliance during a traffic stop, call for service, an investigation or while observing a gathering of a large group of people.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski recorded a video message and posted it on Facebook and Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. He said: “Refusing to comply with the public health crisis that we have, then we are going to make arrests. But that’s the last thing we’re going to do, that’s the last thing we want to do.”

He prefaced his comments by thanking residents of Prince George’s County for complying with the governor’s order so far, and encouraged residents to only make essential trips.


In Virginia’s Fairfax County, Chief Edwin Roessler said the last thing officers want to do during a pandemic is to make an arrest.

“The primary effort throughout the globe is to have social distancing and limit the contact between humans to reduce the risk of the virus spreading,” he said.

Roessler said, so far, he sees the residents of Fairfax County abiding by Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order for Virginia. However, if his department were to be made aware of a large gathering, a police officer would first use his vehicle’s public address system to inform the group that they were violating the order and ask the group to disperse.

So far, that method has worked to receive voluntary compliance of the state’s order.

“Residents of Fairfax County should not have any fear or apprehension that a police officer is out to pull them over or otherwise make an unnecessary contact, because we too are concerned about social distancing,” Roessler said.

Fairfax County police may also use cell phone communications or other techniques to maintain social distancing.

Roessler also said that police may ask that certain non-violent calls for service go through the community reporting system.

Later in the week, both the Virginia State Police and Stafford County made their plans during the order public.

The state police memo said, in part, “the law still requires law enforcement to have reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop on a vehicle. Virginia State Police will not be making random traffic stops on vehicles nor conducting checkpoints to determine if a driver is traveling for a permissible reason.”

The memo also said the governor’s orders do not close roads or interstates, no prevent non residents from traveling into Virginia. However, if a person or business violates the order “persistently,” a class one misdemeanor can be charged. That charge carries up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Stafford County also responded to WTOP’s request for information. The county said its police force will “continue to keep our enforcement of traffic and criminal laws as well as our visibility in the community a priority.” The county said its first step will be to educate the public and it is asking community members to voluntarily adhere to the state’s order.


More Coronavirus News

Dan Friedell

Dan Friedell is a digital writer for WTOP. He came to the D.C. area in 2007 to work as digital editor for, and since then has worked for a number of local and national news organizations.

Erin Cederlind and her boys and made “stained glass windows” for an art project this week, bringing happiness to their home as the sun spread the colors across their living room floor. (Erin Cederlind)
WTOP’s Frank Hanrahan’s daughters, Lila and Penny, take a wagon ride around the block. (WTOP/Frank Hanrahan)
tandem bike and Schwinn bicycles
Some time this summer you may see this yellow tandem bike or one of the Schwinn bicycles on the road in Ocean City. Owner Bill Cook is prepping them for the day when he can get to the beach and ride. (Courtesy Bill Cook)
Puzzles are helping some families pass the time. (Courtesy Suann Lee)
This family took a stroll around the neighborhood to see the cherry blossoms locally. (Courtesy Andrea Cambron)
Woman walking her dog
Many dog owners are filling some of this time with extra walks. (Courtesy Maureen Amrein)
Girl using chopsticks
Many families are using this time to bond, like this one during a meal outside. (WTOP/Jenny Glick)
Family plays a board game.
Playing board games is one way families are avoiding boredom. (WTOP/Jenny Glick)
Time at home doesn’t mean learning stops. (Courtesy Carla Plaza)
A little drawing was on tap. (Courtesy Carla Plaza)
child with cleaning wipe
Parents are teaching a few practical cleaning skills while at home. (Courtesy Carla Plaza)
Happy hour with friends. (Courtesy Carla Plaza)
“My final roll. Got lucky With double ones!” (WTOP/Debra Feinstein)
Working it! Only 1,000 pieces. (Courtesy Barbara Johnson)
Here is our son Jasper Lee Christopher and his dad John Lee set up for a PK4 Shining Stars lesson with Awesome Teachers Ms. Dilara & Ms. Larios! They are learning about the height of Mt. Everest and the continent of Asia! How exciting that the learning continues. Thank heaven! (Courtesy Sylvana Christopher)
Hopscotch squares drawn in chalk on a neighboorhood street.
Hopscotch squares await players in one area neighborhood. (Courtesy Carolyn Lieberman)
Patched walls along a divided staircase.
Painting and home improvement activities are some of the ways people are making the most of their time at home. (Courtesy WTOP listener)
Leashed dog walking on trail.
This dog leads its human for a walk near Lake Accotink in Springfield, Virginia. (Courtesy WTOP listener)
Person holding a net, lakeside.
This person enjoys a sunset reflecting off Lake Accotink in Springfield, Virginia. (Courtesy WTOP listener)
Interior of room with a fresh coat of paint.
Many people in the area are taking this time to treat the inside of their homes to a fresh coat of paint. (Courtesy Denise Storck)
tandem bike and Schwinn bicycles
Woman walking her dog
Girl using chopsticks
Family plays a board game.
child with cleaning wipe
Hopscotch squares drawn in chalk on a neighboorhood street.
Patched walls along a divided staircase.
Leashed dog walking on trail.
Person holding a net, lakeside.
Interior of room with a fresh coat of paint.
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