On March 30, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a stay-at-home order for the District, and anyone found violating it could be subject to a fine of up to $5,000, jail time up to 90 days, or both.
But according to Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Kristen Metzger, unless individuals are “egregiously violating the order,” MPD officers won’t be arresting or fining social distancing violators. “Arrest is the last resort here,” Metzger says. “We’re really just trying to educate people. It’s more about the safety and well-being of people rather than enforcement and arresting and fining people. If someone’s egregiously violating the order, then we will consider the option of arrest. But there’s a couple levels that it has to go through before the arrest can be made. If you’re directly asking someone to disperse the party, and there’s a gathering of 10 or more people and they refuse, that might be an instance.”
This weekend, MPD officers were forced to disperse customers at the mobbed Wharf fish market, in addition to dispersing groups in public areas around the city. Currently, MPD has no plans to implement stricter measures if gatherings persist in the coming weeks. Groups will continue to be asked to break up, then face consequences if they fail to comply.
MPD officers have also been instructed to distance themselves as much as possible by using bullhorns to disperse groups. Officers have been given a script to use that that emphasizes public safety risks and the need to implement social distancing. If groups fail to disperse from a bullhorn warning, officers are then instructed to go up to groups and educate them about the Mayor’s order while asking them, again, to disperse.
One of the things MPD hasn’t explicitly addressed: how to deal with pedestrians walking in the street to keep a six-foot distance from others. Over the weekend, officers in the Cleveland Park area were directing pedestrians to stay out of the street at all times, even if it meant violating social-distancing protocol for a brief period.
“I think they’re trying to advise people to the best of their ability so that everyone maintains that safe distance but also maintains safety when it comes to cars and busy streets,” Metzger says.
So far, there have been no social distancing-related arrests in the District.