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
— Muriel Bowser #StayHomeDC (@MurielBowser) March 31, 2020
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.
- Sign up for news alerts from WTOP
- Closings and delays
- DC-area faith leaders share ideas on reaching followers during coronavirus pandemic
- DC stay-at-home order: What’s allowed
- Maryland stay-at-home order: What’s allowed
- Virginia stay-at-home order: What’s allowed
- What businesses can stay open in DC?
- What businesses can stay open in Maryland?
- What businesses can stay open in Virginia?
- Coronavirus test results in D.C., Maryland and Virginia
- Coronavirus FAQ: What you need to know