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Baltimore City police respond to dozens of calls for illegal gatherings over weekend amid continued coronavirus restrictions

Baltimore police respond to crowds in Fells Point with amplified warnings to heed coronavirus restrictions.

Baltimore City police received approximately 60 calls for illegal gatherings on Friday, the first day some coronavirus restrictions were eased at the state level, police department spokesman detective Donny Moses said.

The department has received numerous calls since then and officers have responded to each and gotten people to disperse without incident, he said.

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Social media posts have shown police vehicles among crowds of people in Baltimore with lights and sirens on, and some videos show a helicopter over the city with a spotlight beaming into neighborhoods below.

Although the state’s stay-at-home order was lifted effective Friday at 5 p.m., Baltimore City Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young signed an executive order extending the restrictions in the city. The state’s stay-at-home order was replaced with an advisory encouraging people to stay “safer at home,” but did allow manufacturing, retail, haircuts and worship services to resume with certain restrictions.

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No citations have been issued in the instances of large gatherings, Moses said. Moving forward and with Memorial Day weekend approaching, officers will continue to monitor and investigate potential violations.

Ahead of the holiday weekend, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison had said the department would ask for voluntary compliance from citizens.

Pat Lundberg, a Fells Point resident, said he went on a walk Saturday afternoon and when he passed Broadway Square saw there were many people out who weren’t following social distancing. Later, when he approached the square to pass again, he could hear police saying something from loud speakers along the lines of spreading out and staying home.

He observed fewer people than earlier in the day and saw two police cars parked there. When it seemed people weren’t responding, officers put the siren on full blast, he said. “That got us easily out of there,” he said, saying they used the “dispersion by annoyance tactic, which seemed to work pretty well.”

He said he could hear the siren continue for a while from his home that isn’t too far away.

With the nice weather and Memorial Day around the corner, he said, people want to be out and police are in a tough and unusual circumstance. But he thinks their response to get people to clear out was reasonable.

Around the Bond Street Wharf and Broadway Square in Fells Point, people were out and about Sunday afternoon but were largely practicing social distancing guidelines by avoiding crowds larger than 10 people.

At the wharf, groups sat on blankets but appeared to be attempting to separate by 6 feet, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

At the Broadway Square, people sat on benches with beer and food from various restaurants with carryout or a nearby food truck; rarely were there any groups larger than five people in one spot. An officer was parked inside his police cruiser near the corner of Thames Street and South Broadway but did not ask anyone outside to disperse as people walked by around 3:30 p.m.

Ryan Johnson, 45, said he moved to Baltimore from Boston on Friday and saw groups of motorcycle riders and large congregations of people in Fells Point that day, as have been depicted in videos online.

He said he was shocked to drive by groups of people without masks or 6 feet of distance between them, saying that Sunday was his first time outside his car since moving on Friday.

Johnson said his first impression of the city when moving in was “the wheels are falling off the bus,” with few people observing proper measures to stem the spread of the disease.

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His wife, Jennifer Otop, said she’s worried the city will continue to deal with large crowds as the weather warms up.

“I think this weekend is going to be as bad as Friday,” she said.

Bruce Willen, 39, lives in the Old Goucher neighborhood and said he could hear a police helicopter attempting to disperse a group of people on dirt bikes near or on 25th Street around 11:30 p.m. Saturday.

He said helicopter’s operator began yelling at the group through a loudspeaker, but that it took around 30 minutes before they left the area.

He said, given that it was late at night and how long it took to get the group to leave, the helicopter’s response was “tone deaf and ineffective.” He added that, while there was an issue Friday, people in his neighborhood have been wearing masks and social distancing.

Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.

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