May 5, 2020


PERF’s COVID-19 coronavirus resources, including past editions of the Daily COVID-19 Report, are available at


The Rules Are Changing in Georgia and South Carolina

For today’s COVID-19 Report, PERF interviewed 7 city and county law enforcement executives in two states that recently moved to reopen businesses: Georgia and South Carolina.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp lifted the statewide shelter-in-place order and allowed reopening of restaurants, movie theaters, and other businesses, a decision that President Trump, who has pushed for a quick reopening of businesses, criticized as “too soon.”

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster issued an order allowing restaurants to provide outdoor seating, lifting his earlier work-at-home order, and other changes.


Key Takeaways

-- There’s a great deal of confusion about changes in the rules, for a number of reasons:

  • Some state orders preempt local ordinances, and others do not.
  • The rules are becoming extremely complicated.  In Georgia, for example, Governor Kemp has issued dozens of COVID-related orders, many of which rescind some of the provisions of earlier orders, while other provisions extend previous orders.
  • Some orders are extremely vague, while others are specific. One of the more specific orders was Georgia’s April 23 order that lists 39 new rules for reopened restaurants, such as instructing restaurants to “use rolled silverware and eliminate table presets.”  The order also had a vague requirement to “increase physical space between workers and patrons.”

-- Police chiefs report that their community members want to be safe, so even when elected officials relax social distancing rules, many residents are more cautious. In Atlanta, for example, more than 120 restaurants formed a group to announce they would not reopen yet.  The mayors in most of the cities described in this report prefer to be more cautious than the governors about reopening too soon.

-- What we are seeing in Georgia and South Carolina may be the future across the nation.  As complex as the rules already are in some states, they will continue to become more complicated as conditions change.  Different cities have different issues.  For example, cities and states with beaches may need to adopt various regulations governing how to gradually reopen beaches.


Implications for Police Chiefs

--Some police agencies said they feel fortunate to have a staff attorney to interpret the new laws and executive orders.

-- Many police executives said they are trying to rely on local public health experts to make these difficult public health decisions.  Going forward, more than ever, police executives will need to consult closely with their mayors to obtain assistance in translating legal public health orders into practical guidance for line officers. 

-- Police chiefs are working with the business community to establish clarity about how rules will be enforced.

--Police may need to increase patrols in places where people gather, in states that still have social distancing rules.



Atlanta Chief Erika Shields:

Reopening Is Coinciding with a Dramatic Uptick in COVID Cases

Our Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, has handled this situation gracefully. Her position has been to let the medical experts guide us on this. That’s why the city shut down its operations well before the state did. Her posture has been very consistent.

At the state level, it’s been very ad hoc and really driven by the economy. I think everyone understands and appreciates that, but we have just hit our stride with the COVID virus over the last three weeks. So the opening of businesses and the economy is coinciding with the dramatic uptick in cases.

Some of the Governor’s rules are controlling:  The mayor has had some conversations with the governor, and respectfully agreed to disagree. He’s opened up restaurants, and we’re obviously adhering to that because it’s the law. But we’re not reopening the places that we can control.

I think the difficulty for the police department has been that the majority of people we encounter and hear from have a common-sense, practical approach and just want to do things in what they feel is the safe way.  But there are individuals who are really quite frivolous about things.

So you end up with people wanting to have people arrested for not embracing social distancing or wearing a mask. The tenuous state we have been in is not going to be able to appease people who are understandably quite concerned for their health and the health of others.

Atlanta has a very strong business community with a number of Fortune 500 companies, and I think they’re much more aligned with the mayor’s posture.  Many of them closed their businesses when she closed the city. Other than Waffle House, we haven’t heard folks lobbying to reopen. But the businesspeople also tend to steer clear of politics.


Chatham County Chief Jeff Hadley:

The 38 Executive Orders Are Confusing to Interpret

The governor has issued 38 executive orders since this started, which can be confusing to interpret and enforce. On one of his executive orders, he clarified that only state officers could enforce the order, which left local law enforcement kind of powerless to do anything.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson has been much more aggressive with his restrictions, but once the governor took away local powers, we all had to adhere with what the governor wanted done.


Savannah Chief Roy Minter:

Business Leaders Think the Governor’s Order Goes Too Far, So We Haven’t Seen a Lot of Restaurants Opening Up

Before the governor’s order took effect, I met with my business advisory groups to talk about what was coming. I was clear with them that we wanted and needed their help, so that we did not become “social distancing police.” Almost all of the business people thought that the governor’s order was probably too much too soon, so we have not seen a lot of restaurants opening up.

Our mayor has been very outspoken about his concerns about how this could potentially impact the health and safety of our residents and visitors.

There was a lot of confusion when the governor’s order first came out about who actually had enforcement duties and responsibilities for the orders. Initially only state agencies and sheriffs’ departments had the authority to enforce the governor’s order. They quickly became overwhelmed and asked local jurisdictions if we could assist.

The orders now state that they can be enforced by any law enforcement officer, and they give clearer guidance on what needs to be done to shut down businesses. But we’re still trying to work through who will be enforcing what.



Charleston Chief Luther Reynolds:

Businesses Are Getting Crushed, But Most People Want to Get This Right

Our top goals are to save lives, protect our communities, have a clear message, protect vulnerable people, and reduce the outbreak. But police officers can be stuck in the middle. So I think it’s all about balance and communication. I don’t think we can overcommunicate with our officers.

Sometimes the governor’s executive orders are not totally clear, so we have to interpret them at the local level. We have local ordinances, and the mayor has the ability to enact some things with the council. Our legal team works behind the scenes to translate what that means for our troops.

We have to deal with violent crime, and we can’t solely be the playground police. I’m not going to arrest a person in the park doing yoga. At the same time, we have suspects in our communities who committed violent crimes and are being let out of jail, are reoffending, and we’re re-arresting. Like every police department, I think we have to find a balance.

We have been told, “You’re the enforcement, and other city agencies will be the ambassadors.”

Like other mayors in the state, our mayor has tried to be a collaborative partner with the governor’s office. Sometimes the governor’s orders have come out without many details. Sometimes the governor’s orders trump everything else, and other times they give leeway to local jurisdictions. When orders come out, our legal team has to figure out what the city wants to put in place to provide more clarity. 

Parks, restaurants, and a 10K run:  Today we opened the parks for the first time. Next week they’re talking about opening up restaurants for outdoor dining. Right now our 10K bridge run is postponed until August 1, and we have to decide whether we’re going to have that event.

Our businesses are getting crushed, and they’re the same ones who generate a lot of revenues for our city. They are our partners prior to, during, and after this event. So the last thing we want to do is hammer a bunch of people with citations. A lot of what we’re providing is education and presence.

Erring on the side of safety:  I don’t think there is a consensus on reopening. There are a lot of people who want to open up everything, but in the surveys we’ve seen, most people want to get it right. They don’t want to open up too quickly and have another spike in COVID infections.

Our mayor has been decisive all along. He’s erred on the side of the health experts to do what’s best for the city and minimize the loss of life. That’s what will drive his decisions and the council’s about when it’s time to open, how quickly to do that, and the specifics of doing that.


Columbia Chief Skip Holbrook:

Our Police Attorney Is Critically Important to Interpreting the Orders

Our mayor and council have been very aggressive and forward-thinking, and we have not necessarily been in lockstep with the governor on every order.

It’s been critically important to have a police attorney on staff. She’s helped us navigate some of these tricky interpretations. We’ve always erred on the side of good common sense, applied discretion, and taken a measured approach. We’ve allowed our frontline officers to ask questions directly to our police attorney, and we also provide the officers with guidance documents throughout the week.

Our community members are complying:  We have seen very good compliance throughout this period of ever-evolving restrictions, and easing of restrictions, and interpretations of city ordinances vs. state ordinances. We’ve found people to be receptive and compliant, and when there is a mistake, they’ll correct it. We’ve only had to issue a handful of citations, and that is the last resort.


Myrtle Beach Chief Amy Prock:

We’re Increasing Patrols Where People Gather

We rely on education to enforce social distancing, and we have a very supportive community. Our police department and our city have been getting information out through social media and through our officers to make sure everyone in the community understands what social distancing means.

We have stepped up patrols, especially after our beach accesses opened up last week. We do a lot of directed patrols to the gathering areas. We do that continuously to ensure that we don’t have issues in those areas.


Charleston County Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas:

Our Deputies Are Getting Thanked for Enforcing Rules

Our county council is not inclined to write ordinances or set rules, so we just adopt what the governor says in his decrees.

The biggest issue has been water and boat landings. They reopened the boat landings after closing them for a week or two, and we go and make sure that there aren’t any groups congregating there. The deputies there tell me that they’re getting thanked by the public for trying to enforce the rules.

Our view on this is that we should listen to the scientists. We’ve got a terrific epidemiologist in this state, Linda Bell, and I think her position is that we should go two weeks without an increase in reported cases and then we look at things.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.

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