Local and state law enforcement officers have responded to more than 400 calls for violations of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order intended to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, state police said Tuesday.
Hogan issued the executive order Monday requiring residents to leave their homes only for “essential activities” such as grocery shopping, work, exercise, or to pick up meals from schools.
Under the order, violators can face a $5,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
“We decided it was time to take more aggressive action,” Hogan said in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Tuesday. “All these steps are necessary to save lives."
State police did not say Tuesday how many, if any, individuals were charged, just that law enforcement received 402 calls related to the order. State police have conducted nearly 6,600 business and crowd compliance checks since March 24.
The executive orders are part of ongoing efforts locally and nationally as officials try to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which has caused more than 3,000 deaths in the U.S. and 22 in Maryland.
The latest Maryland deaths include five residents of a Carroll County nursing home. Elderly individuals continue to be among those most at-risk, health experts say, which makes elder care facilities particularly at risk.
To slow the spread to reduce a heavy burden on the nation’s health care system, Hogan and governors around the country have exercised increased power by issuing mandates that have closed schools, businesses, and restricted unnecessary travel.
While the measures might seem extraordinary to businesses and individuals, legal experts say the governor has the authority to make such mandates under the state of emergency declaration.
Despite the warnings, however, law enforcement agencies continue to receive calls involving businesses that claim ignorance, or individuals who ignore the orders. Police in Charles County arrested a man after he hosted a gathering of 60 people at his home Friday. On Sunday, state police charged a Lutherville man after he hosted a party with teens at a Westminster hotel.
While Hogan’s latest executive order is the most restrictive, it does not mean law enforcement should stop individuals for the sake of questioning them or pull over drivers to determine whether they are following the order. It does require them to intervene when they see groups of 10 or more congregated in public.
State Police Superintendent Colonel Woodrow Jones III directed troopers not to make traffic stops just to determine whether the driver’s travel was essential.
“If, in the course of the regular performance of his/her duties, such as during a crash investigation or a traffic stop, the trooper develops information indicating the individual was engaged in non-essential travel, enforcement action can be taken, in consultation with the state’s attorney’s office in that jurisdiction,” a state police statement said.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the department has emphasized that officers should strive for voluntary compliance when encountering residents who are not following the order, and that officers would not be directed to conduct random stops of citizens.
“We have not given guidance to just arbitrarily make any stops, but rather when it comes to our attention, or when we’re informed, or a complaint is filed, then we can investigate that," he said.
When officers encounter individuals who are not complying, officers are instructed to make a physical arrest, he said.
The city has 187 confirmed cases. A police officer and two EMTs have previously tested positive for COVID-19, while 40 officers are self-quarantining after recent travel or potential exposure, city officials said. Twenty fire department recruits are self-quarantining because one of their peers showed symptoms.
In Baltimore, where the police department has had a contentious relationship with the community, the order could be more challenging to enforce.
A federal judge, Justice Department lawyers and a monitoring team have been evaluating the department since 2017 as it implements sweeping new police reforms under a federal consent decree. Officers are being evaluated on their interactions with the public, even in unprecedented situations.
A memo from Deputy Commissioner of Operations Michael Sullivan sent to city officers Monday night advises them to activate their body-worn cameras and play a recording over the vehicle’s public announcement system to encourages residents to disperse.
“By following this order, you are helping to save lives and stopping the spread of this dangerous and deadly disease,” the recording says. "Even if you aren’t showing symptoms, you could still have coronavirus and accidentally spread it to a relative or neighbor. Being home is being safe. We are all in this together.”
After repeated attempts, officers can pursue criminal charges but only after consulting a lieutenant or above to determine if charges are appropriate “while balancing resource constraints and public harm," the memo said.
“Voluntary compliance is the preferred result and the notification to the public of the public health risk is the desired effect," the memo continues.
Baltimore Police have not said how many calls they have received regarding the executive orders.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said officials have received 162 complaints there. In two cases, officials issued cease and desist orders at a gym and a barbershop on the east side of the county.
Anne Arundel County Police said officers have responded to more than 70 complaints since last week regarding calls for large groups.
"Businesses are pleading ignorant, that they didn’t know, and shutting down as soon as we show up,” Anne Arundel County Police spokeswoman Sgt. Jacklyn Davis said.
Howard County Police said last weekend that officers responded to just five incidents, including to a group playing soccer, another playing basketball, children playing, and a crowd gathered outside a shopping area. In all cases, groups cleared voluntarily.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office has dispersed a handful of similar gatherings, including kids playing basketball in a Joppa park, people gathering to play soccer at a school field in Bel Air and a field in Jarrettsville, a party in Edgewood and a group congregating at a church in Abingdon, according to the department’s calls for service logs.
Cristie Hopkins, a spokesperson for the Harford sheriff’s office, said it had not been tracking the number of order violations but that deputies are breaking up gatherings they come across while on patrol.
Baltimore Sun Media reporters S. Wayne Carter, Taylor DeVille, Alex Mann, Jess Nocera and Talia Richman contributed to this article.