Covid-19 Conundrum: Enforcing Lockdown Mandates vs. Enforcing the Law

Author: Nicole Porter, N.A. PORTER & ASSOCIATES

The Covid-19 pandemic has had far reaching implications across the globe. The same can be said from a law enforcement standpoint. However, officers have been faced with enforcing new mandates as a result of on-going Covid-19 concerns. The question becomes a matter of enforcing lockdown mandates versus enforcing the law.

In recent months, several departments across Canada and the U.S reported that officers should be taken “out of the social distancing enforcement business.” Politicians have also been under fire for releasing criminals from prison, discouraging proactive policing, and “leaving subways in chaos.”

In some of our harder hit areas, we have nurses and doctors getting mugged on their way to our hospitals. We have essential frontline workers in all industries, fighting to do their jobs due to increased community conflict. Despite winter being right around the corner, the pandemic continues to unravel our social fabric. It has been said that police officers should be allowed to focus on our core public safety mission. If we don’t, our cities could fall apart before our very eyes. Sure, time is spent enforcing Covid-19 legislation but does that mean it’s actually deterring officers from their core focus, that being public safety?

Some of our southern friends in America have refused to enforce “stay-at-home” restrictions imposed by Governors. State-wide (and Province-wide) guidelines limiting activities and public gatherings have been mandated. However, some departments have instructed their staff to avoid taking action against businesses or churches that violate those restrictions.

Many have said their choice to do this is because citizens need to get back to work to support their families. We know there will always be those who scream about constitutional rights and so forth (one of which is the right to gather in a group). However, we must ask ourselves if we should set aside the rights to gather, even if only temporarily, if not for the greater good. In other words, in these unprecedented times, perhaps we need to set aside our views of how procedures are “normally” conducted. Because if you ask me, it’s becoming increasingly clear we all, like it or not, need to embrace this new “norm”.

We’ve been mandated for months now. It’s becoming the new routine. So, does this mean those recommendations to stay home are logical? What about the expectations to remain a safe distance apart when going out for groceries? Should people do everything they can to protect themselves, their friends, their family, and their community from spreading COVID-19? Absolutely to all. 

Citizens here, and abroad, soon figured out that these “orders” were not laws initially, and that their rights were being infringed. Most people understood the importance of adhering to strict guidelines to avoid the spread of Covid-19. And until these “orders” became legislated, demonstrators continued to gather across the country and beyond, protesting the new stay-at-home order.

Similar protests have happened in dozens of other places around the world. But what people fail to recognize is that it’s the police who are stepping in to enforce these new laws. Essentially this means that officers are placed in the middle of these gatherings and are forced to break them up.

A number of law enforcement leaders are recognizing the confusion in this new enforcement. Some claim that enforcing these orders takes away from enforcing actual criminal law.

It’s inevitable… Regardless of what science is telling us about Covid-19, there will be those who feel it’s time to get back to opening up businesses. People will continue to argue their constitutional rights. They’ll say you can’t just arrest somebody for going out in public. There will be a backlash about the early release of criminals. These people will often claim the government just wants officers to make criminals out of law-abiding citizens who are just trying to support a family.

But what some fail to realize, is the other consideration. The one that’s sole priority is public safety. Of course, enforcing this new legislation isn’t ideal for anyone. Nothing about Covid-19 is ideal though. And we must remember that the goal here is NOT to loosen up on regular public safety initiatives, but instead to additionally enforce public health guidelines in order to fight this on-going pandemic.

The great news is that many around the globe seem to be grasping that, like it or not, this seems to be the new normal. And it could be for a while. But what’s wonderful is that despite Covid-19, communities have turned to and embrace, online platforms to stay in touch. The same can be said for law enforcement. Officers are staying connected to the community by maintaining strict “social distancing” guidelines, by posting educational and interactive videos online for children to watch.

Some officers have went a step further and partnered with community services (such as Meals on Wheels) to deliver lunch and dinner five days a week to at-risk populations during the health crisis. Officers make rounds to different assisted-living facilities and personal dwellings delivering food and much-needed companionship.

There are countless other acts of kindness being performed by officers across the country who are going well above and beyond their call of duty to assist people who are in need. Many have went above and beyond in this pandemic, officers and non-officers, alike. It’s an incredible demonstration of human compassion.

Unfortunately, this pandemic is likely to get worse before it gets better. But one thing I do know without hesitation, is that we WILL get through this. The question becomes, when? Nobody knows.

Police officers are inherently put in a position of danger every day. It’s a part of the job, as most will tell you. But as of lately, officers are put in situations of ever-increasing danger—not just of being diagnosed with the disease, but enforcing mandates that may be constitutionally unjust.

So, try to remember to be empathetic with our front-line workers. Perhaps take a step back and recognize the complexities in enforcing these new guidelines. We are in unprecedented times. Sometimes an issue isn’t simply “black and white”. It involves a collaborative mentality. Because let’s face it, nobody anticipated a global pandemic on such a massively destructive scale.

My suggestion? Let’s give each other a break and recognize the sacrifice of those working in the public safety sector. If we just take a moment to appreciate the hard work and sacrifices these officers have given, maybe we’d realize that we are all in this fight together. And together, we will get through this.

End Note: Huge thank you to ALL FRONTLINE WORKERS