Policing a Pandemic: Stay-at-Home Orders and What they Mean for the Police

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45 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered life globally during the first 4 months of 2020. Many countries, including the United States, responded to the pandemic by issuing stay-at-home orders/shelter-in-place orders (SaHOs/SiPOs) to their citizens. By April 2020, more than 90% of the U.S. population was subject to an order. SaHOs/SiPOs raise a number of complex issues for the police, ranging from concerns about infringement of constitutional rights to potential sanctions for violations of an order. This article delves into the issues surrounding SaHOs/SiPOs and highlights their complexity for the police. First, we examine the “why the police?” question, and point to key features of their role which make enforcement of SaHOs/SiPOs the proper business of the police. Second, we examine the relevant legal doctrines that can serve as the basis for police actions against violators of orders, most notably the special needs doctrine. Last, we offer police legitimacy as a lens for viewing the appropriateness of police responses to violators of SaHOs/SiPOs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)702-717
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Criminal Justice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Police and pandemic
  • Shelter-in-place order
  • Stay-at-home order

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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