Georgia Criminal Defense Blog

City of Cumming Overreaches in Covid-19 Enforcement

Posted by Richard Lawson | Mar 31, 2020 | 5 Comments

Update April 1, 2020:

The City of Cumming has rescinded the social distancing order.  As stated in my article, the idea of hiring 150 citizen police officers did not go over well with the general public.  It is stunning to me, as an attorney, that the idea was approved of by their city attorney.  The public clearly responded negatively to the idea.  I am pleased that common sense prevailed. Stay safe everyone!

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As reported in the Forsyth County News, the City of Cumming will be swearing in 150 “special policemen” to enforce social distancing. These "officers" will be empowered to give citations with fines up to $1000 and punishment up to 180 days in jail.  

Before people excoriate me, of course I agree that we should all be limiting our contact with others to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  The issue is whether we should be empowering people without police training to enforce a city ordinance?

The answer, for many reasons, is “no.”

There is a reason we trust police officers to enforce the law.  First of all, they are trained at a police academy.  Then, they are trained by their individual police departments by riding with more experienced police officers.  Then finally, even once on their own, they report to a chain of command that includes other more experienced officers.

With all of that, police officers are not infallible.  The court system exists to provide a check against the power of the police to take away someone's freedom or property.

The idea that we would “deputize” hundreds of laypersons and empower them to use their judgement to enforce an ordinance is easily the worst idea I have heard in a long time.

Where is the supervision?  Where is the judgment? Are we saying that anyone can just be a police officer without training?

Case Example:  A person is approached by one of these “officers” and questioned. 

Let's say that person refuses to engage the citizen officer and continues on their way.  With a real police officer, failure to obey their lawful commands can be considered misdemeanor obstruction.  However, these lay people are not acting under color of law.  So, what happens?  What could happen?

I envision a real conflict where the accused person does not recognize the authority of the citizen officer and real violence could occur.  I also envision a circumstance where the citizen police officer over-reacts and does something inappropriate to the person they are accusing.

Again, there is a reason we train police officers to deescalate situations.  Untrained, citizen officers, do not have the judgment and experience to enforce our laws.  This analysis does not even address whether citizen police officers can even legally issue citations.

Finally, the people of Cumming should prepare to be sued the first time one of the above-mentioned examples happen.  Police officers have qualified immunity while doing their jobs.  As long as the police are acting appropriately, and in good faith, they are generally immune for a lawsuit. 

Citizen “officers” will not have qualified immunity.  If something goes wrong and someone is falsely arrested, or god forbid hurt, prepare for the lawsuits. 

Opinion:

When I saw this article, the first thing that came to mind was how things were in East Germany.  In that communist country, citizens were afraid of their neighbors.  Informants would turn in their neighbors and even their family members.  People lived in fear. 

Things are bad enough right now.  We do not need to set neighbor against neighbor.  We are all in this together. 

This can happen in your community.  Let's not fundamentally alter society for something that will most certainly pass.  

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Richard Lawson has devoted his entire career to DUI Defense and Criminal Defense. As a former Prosecutor he knows both sides of your case. Put his experience to work for you. In DUI cases, you only have 30 days to protect your right to drive. Call now for immediate attention. We are available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

Comments

Abby Reply

Posted Apr 01, 2020 at 05:36:39

This is concerning and seems to set a dangerous precedent. There is already enough distrust in our community of police officers and this ordinance will surely exacerbate the problem.

Sean Johnston Reply

Posted Apr 01, 2020 at 05:36:41

This is insanity. I cannot imagine a.city suddenly hiring 1000 new cops with little to no training with this much power. These are crazy times…

A.A. Reply

Posted Apr 01, 2020 at 05:59:23

1. ACAB, trusting police is something only rich people do.
2. Empowering people who are busy body enough to want to be “social distancing officers” is a recipe for disaster. If they wanted to be cops why aren’t they cops already?

Richard Lawson Reply

Posted Apr 01, 2020 at 06:10:21

I trust the police. I do not, however, think they are infallible. They are human beings doing a difficult job. I do agree with you that we do not need to empower “busy bodies” to be temporary police officers. That is a recipe for a disaster.

Keri Brooks Reply

Posted Apr 01, 2020 at 12:51:49

I am glad to see that the City of Cumming came to their senses! Hiring people with no formal training to monitor the public was definitely not a solution to this problem.

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