San Francisco’s police department says it will only impose fines or punishments on residents violating ‘shelter in place’ as a last resort, as the city navigates an unprecedented public health crisis

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Enforcement of the San Francisco Bay Area’s extraordinary new public health order instructing residents to “shelter in place” to contain the coronavirus outbreak began Monday night at midnight, as the San Francisco Police Department announced that police would be ensuring the city’s nightlife was closed.

“At midnight, #SFPD will begin checking bars and clubs for compliance with our city’s public health order aimed at slowing the spread of #COVID19,” the SFPD department tweeted.

Although San Francisco has said that violating the “shelter in space” order is a “misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both,” San Francisco’s law enforcement has stressed that the city’s rules are depending on “voluntary compliance” to help them push through an unprecedented public health crisis. 

In an email to Business Insider, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department described the situation that the city was facing as “uncharted territory.”

While police patrols will continue to go around the city, the SFPD spokesperson stressed that enforcing “shelter in place” through fines or imprisonment was a last resort. 

“From a public safety perspective, we will continue to have officers on the streets and responding to calls for service. As it has always been, our priorities are violent crimes and crimes in progress.  We will be doing passing calls to throughout the city to reinforce public safety,” the SFPD spokesperson said. 

“We are not interested in using a criminal justice approach for a public health challenge,” the spokesperson added. 

It’s worth noting that each of San Francisco’s six Bay Area counties can define which businesses qualify as “essential” and not. Small businesses like dispensaries are being closed in San Francisco but left open in San Jose. And Tesla’s vehicle assembly plant, which employs about 10,000 workers in Fremont,will remain open because Alameda County has declared the automobile manufacturing facility to be an “essential business.” 

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