Hours after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced sweeping executive orders Monday to restrict public gatherings and business operations due to the new coronavirus, state police and local law enforcement agencies said they were prepared to arrest those who deliberately flout the directives.
Hogan issued an executive order Monday to shut down all bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms in Maryland, effective at 5 p.m., to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants may continue delivery, carryout and drive-thru services.
Hogan also ordered members of the public on Monday to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limiting gatherings to 50 people applies to social, community, religious and recreational or sports activities.
On Thursday, the governor further limited gatherings to 10 people. Hogan said the tighter restriction follows guidance from the federal government to limit gatherings to 10.
In a statement, Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow W. Jones III said the department will work to enforce those orders “around the clock and across the state.”
Jones is hoping Maryland businesses and residents will voluntarily comply without the need for further encouragement — but said his department is prepared to arrest business owners, customers and citizens who ignore the governor’s instructions.
Violation of a governor’s executive order declared during a state of emergency is punishable with a fine of up to $5,000 or one year in jail or both, Jones said in a statement.
“If a need for law enforcement action arises, we will take the appropriate action,” he said. “We are first conferencing with state’s attorneys and local law enforcement chiefs and sheriffs across Maryland. We will work in support of and partnership with those local authorities.”
If a complaint is lodged against a business, deputies plan to first make contact with the owner or manager of the establishment. If voluntary compliance does not occur, state police will cooperate with the local state’s attorney to potentially issue a criminal summons or warrant, Jones said.
Spokesman Maj. Kurt Rauschenberg said the Maryland National Guard will support and coordinate with state and local police as directed or requested.
In Baltimore, the police and health departments will work together to enforce the executive orders, said Lester Davis, a spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
“We’re not playing around,” Davis said. “The hope is that people understand the seriousness of this and will comply and we won’t have to use enforcement measures. But we’re more than willing to do that.”
In a statement, Young said he needed city residents to “adjust to this new reality.”
“Our residents are now, literally, our public health officers and we need them all to protect each other by following best practices around social distancing to limit the spread of this virus," Young said. "The best thing Baltimoreans can do today is to stay home and not expose themselves or their families to any unnecessary risk. Not all superheroes wear capes, some stay at home.”
Baltimore Police, in conjunction with the Baltimore Health Department, the Baltimore Fire Department and Board of Liquor License Commissioners, will begin inspections and enforcement across the city Monday night.
City police Commissioner Michael Harrison encouraged residents to call 311 — not 911 — with any nonemergency related calls related to businesses or gatherings of crowds.
“We remain focused on keeping residents safe and will continue to work closely with our local partners to serve the residents to decrease the spread of COVID-19,” Harrison said in a statement.
In Baltimore County, law enforcement officials have joined the department of health, the fire marshal, code enforcement and the liquor board in forming a government task force to enforce the orders.
Officers, who are being instructed to record gatherings via their body-worn cameras, will be empowered to break up large gatherings of more than 10 people at all venues in the county, and officials also have the authority to further reduce the number.
The enforcement of the order prohibiting gatherings or events of 10 or more people at all locations and venues will be “primarily complaint-driven,” said Sean Naron, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.'s administration.
Naron said people should call 911 if they see violations of the executive order. Those calls will be routed to the health department, whose staff will take the lead on enforcement with assistance from police, if necessary, Naron said.
The health department will dispatch an inspector who can issue a citation based on the governor’s directive, he said.
Several other county law enforcement agencies confirmed their officers also plan to educate noncompliant citizens and businesses, but are prepared to take further legal action if necessary.
In Anne Arundel County, police said reports of violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis with officers seeking voluntary compliance before taking an enforcement action, department spokesman Marc Limansky said.
Anyone observing a gathering that appears to be in violation of the order is asked to call Anne Arundel police’s nonemergency number 410-222-8610, Limansky said.
Harford County Sheriff’s deputies who notice a noncompliant establishment while on proactive patrol or receive a call alleging executive order violations will respond as they would in any other call for service, said department spokeswoman Cristie Hopkins.
Hopkins said citizens can call 911, the nonemergency number 410-838-6600 or the precincts directly with concerns.
Spokesman Cpl. Jonathan Light with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office said deputies plan to educate any noncompliant group of the statewide orders. If those efforts are not successful in disbanding large groups, Light said deputies will consult with the county State’s Attorney’s Office and take whatever action is deemed appropriate.
Baltimore Sun reporters Talia Richman and Wilborn P Nobles III and Baltimore Sun Media reporter Cody Boteler contributed to this article.
This story was updated to reflect further restrictions on crowd size implemented March 19.