Can You Get Fined for Not Adhering to Social Distancing Guidelines?


With strict social distancing guidelines still in effect across the country, many are wondering if these parameters are enforceable by law. Cities across the country are using different means of keeping community members from gathering in groups.

In New York, social distancing enforcement from the NYPD began as a verbal reminder. NYPD vehicles would patrol parks blaring a warning about remaining six feet apart. With many still ignoring the pleas, the city has now authorized NYPD officers to hand out fines of up to $500 to anyone failing to disperse after being asked to do so.

A Florida pastor was recently arrested for holding large services, charging him with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules.

However, while it's important that everyone in the community does their part to stop the spread of coronavirus, many believe that "criminalizing" gatherings isn't the answer either.

Maryanne Kaishian, a senior staff attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services, told CNN, "Social distancing is absolutely a critical measure, but our knee-jerk reaction to problems as a society tends to be criminalization, and it's just no the answer, especially here."

Meanwhile, Jeremy Travis, a former deputy commissioner for legal matters at the NYPD, says, "It's not unusual for the police or other enforcement agencies to have the power to enforce health regulations."

In most instances where fines or summons are issued, police have first given a warning to people disobeying social distancing measures. It's usually only when there is a refusal to comply that they will give any sort of citation.

While it is becoming more common nationwide for people to be fined for not obeying social distancing guidelines, Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, believes that it's up to the community to obey and enforce.

"This is not a police role," Wexler said. "This is a public health emergency role. This is a role to help the community. This is the time when the concepts of community policing really have to be operationalized. This is where police can play a huge role in allaying people's fears and educating people."

Still, many cities are taking matters into their own hands to avoid having to fine or arrest people for social distancing. Some cities have even taken down public basketball hoops to encourage people to stay home.

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