Yesterday PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with two chiefs of Hawaiian police agencies, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and Kaua’i Police Chief Todd Raybuck, and Director Freddy Ramirez of the Miami-Dade Police Service about how their agencies are approaching the enforcement of COVID-19 public health orders.


Honolulu Chief Susan Ballard

COVID has pretty much shut the island down. Businesses are starting to close because they can’t make ends meet. People are losing their jobs. Tourism is our biggest industry and the biggest tax base for our state (though our city tax base is mostly property taxes). So it’s affecting the livelihood of state workers and the budgets for state government agencies.

The longer we’re in this COVID pandemic, the worse it’s getting. We were doing very well at the very beginning. For six months, we were just giving out warnings for the most part.

Because we’re such a huge island, we don’t have enough officers to knock on people’s doors to make sure they’re complying with the quarantine. So our actions were basically based on complaints we receive. If we get a complaint regarding somebody violating a quarantine, an officer would be sent to investigate and, based on the investigation, it could be a warning, a citation, or an arrest.

The police department has made very few arrests – I think about 10 or 12 for quarantine issues. The state has arrested some as well, but I don’t know how many.

We started with warnings, but then we saw people becoming complacent. They knew we were just giving warnings, so they said, “What different does it make? We should do what we want to do.” And when the city started trying to open up, our numbers started to skyrocket to 300 cases of COVID a day.

When the city decided to go back into lockdown, people were still gathering and having parties. At that point we decided that the only way to get things back under control was to go to strict enforcement.

 It has worked, and the numbers have come down. Tomorrow we’re going to start opening back up again.

Now it’s up to the community. If they want to avoid strict lockdown enforcement, they need to abide by the regulations that have been established. We don’t want to enforce and give citations and make arrests, but if they don’t abide by the rules and we have to go into lockdown again, then we may have to reconsider.

I don’t like to call it “education,” because we’re way beyond education. Everyone should know about COVID by now. Starting tomorrow it’s going to be about reminding people and warning them. When an officer warns somebody about a violation, we’ll be inputting it into a system we’ve created so that officers can see who has been previously warned.

We didn’t have any issues with homelessness, because we set up a program to assist homeless persons before COVID, called HONU (Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons). We picked up people experiencing homelessness who wanted help and had tents set up with services, showers, bathrooms, a place for their pets, medical care, veterinary care, and food. From there, they could go to shelters when space became available. When COVID hit, we adjusted quickly and developed what we call POST (Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage Facility). We closed down a beach park and brought out individual tents. When we did enforcement and people wanted help, we’d take them to POST. We’ve been averaging 80-90 clients at our facility every day. They stay there for 14 days to quarantine, then go into shelters.

Chuck Wexler: What are the primary regulations that you’re enforcing or warning people about?

Chief Ballard: It’s the large gatherings. The majority of them have been people who were in closed parks or beaches. Not many have been given for facemasks.

Wexler: Does the public understand a stronger enforcement approach?

Chief Ballard:  I created a COVID enforcement hotline, so people could call that number directly if they saw violations of the emergency proclamation. We set up an email address as well. So a lot of our enforcement was based on complaints coming in.

The mayor gave me some overtime money, because our officers couldn’t do what they wanted us to do without it. We created a COVID enforcement team, and that’s why citations went up. For 16 hours a day, they would go out to areas that were closed or where we saw a lot of gatherings. They were specifically responding to complaints from the community or our council members.

For the most part we had support from the community. Obviously the people who were cited were not happy, and we got pushback from them. But the majority of the community supported what we were doing, because they knew we were trying to control the COVID numbers.

Wexler: How has this impacted your department?

Chief Ballard:  To date we’ve only had 23 officers test positive, and only 2 contracted it at work. The rest contracted it from their home life or a family gathering. We’ve had no deaths, thank goodness. So we’re actually doing pretty well.

We were lucky because we had a huge function come to our island about three years ago, and we had ordered pallets of N95 masks for that event in case there was tear gas or anything else like that. So we had hundreds of thousands of N95 masks already in storage. Our officers had N95 masks while everyone else was trying to find places to order them.

We had to change officers’ mindsets when they went to medical calls to make sure they suited up with PPE, but now it’s become second nature to wear appropriate PPE.


Kaua’i Chief Todd Raybuck

Kaua’i is a rural island community. We have about 75,000 residents, and pre-COVID, our average daily tourist population was about 30,000. It’s a spread-out, rural area, with about a two-hour drive time from our furthest north to furthest south communities. Our department only has 162 officers to cover that area, and we’re the only full-service law enforcement agency on the island. Our nearest jurisdiction for support is on the island of Oahu. So everything falls to us.

Our medical care capacity is very limited. We only have nine ICU beds, 14 ventilators, and less than 200 hospital beds for the entire community. So we knew that if we had a surge of cases, it would quickly overwhelm our island’s medical capacity.

In early March, before we even had our first COVID case, we knew that the day would come when we would have to enforce some very unpopular mandates. Our priority was creating a balance between being rule-enforcers and partners in protecting our community’s public health, as well as assisting as community caregivers by distributing meals to the community.

Very early on, I think even before our first COVID case, the mayor established an evening curfew. That really set the tone for our community about the seriousness of the potential crisis and some of the restrictions that we may see if we’re unable to prevent a large outbreak on our island.

In the early stages of March, we started enforcing the curfew. In early April, the mayor and the governor’s proclamations issued stay-at-home orders. We initiated roadside checkpoints. We have basically one highway that stretches from the north to south. We enlisted the assistance of the National Guard to help staff those with us.

The stay-at-home order allowed exemptions for people in critical positions. The checkpoints were established to make sure that people traveling fit into those exemptions. But in reality, the checkpoints were never intended to be an enforcement action. It was more of a communication message. Our focus was on education, voluntary compliance, and communicating how dangerous and severe an outbreak could be in our community. We had to do a lot of research with our attorneys to make sure we could implement those checkpoints.

Wexler: What was the community response to those checkpoints?

Chief Raybuck: The people who had the exemptions were a little frustrated because the checkpoints created a traffic backlog at times on the one highway. But overwhelmingly the community recognized the need and helped support us. Social media was very active in telling people to stay home. It created awareness in the community that people weren’t abiding by stay-at-home orders and that it was important for us to all do our part.

Those checkpoints were very early on and were limited to a couple weeks.

Wexler: How did you handle people arriving from outside the island?

Chief Raybuck:  Being an island state, travel is somewhat limited. One of our gaps was incoming passengers in our airport. We knew right away that incoming passengers would be the greatest risk for us. The governor has issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for incoming passengers. We established tables at the airport to do surveys of incoming passengers. We made contact with all passengers to determine whether their travel was from the mainland or inter-island. They provided us with information about where they were staying.

We established a quarantine compliance protocol, where we would utilize strike teams with National Guard and law enforcement officers to do compliance checks. Our officers weren’t focused on enforcement. Enforcement did happen – we made over 95 arrests for quarantine violations – but that was not our priority focus. Our priority focus was ensuring that people in quarantine were aware that there was a system for checking that people were quarantining.

Our officers assisted people with groceries and asked if they needed medicine picked up. So the response from those in quarantine was very well received because of the professionalism and support our officers provided. 


Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez

Like everyone else, during the early part of the pandemic, we were using warnings and education. As the numbers started to spike, it became more of a message of zero-tolerance. Just before the demonstrations, our numbers started to go down, and we were in the process of loosening regulations.

But then suddenly we had a big spike in July. We shifted into a zero-tolerance mode, but at the time our only means was a misdemeanor arrest. Through the county commission, we were able to update our civil citation process and use civil citations for the violations. We worked with code enforcement and the fire department to create squads that enforced the mask order and other public health orders. The civil citations have been very effective, because there’s no longer the stigma of an arrest. It doesn’t put the officers in an uncomfortable position.

To encourage businesses to comply, we reached out to them to say we knew they were suffering, but we didn’t want another shutdown. But if the businesses were noncompliant, we would close them down.

We’re still in that process. I just got a message from the mayor’s office to make sure that we enforce mask-wearing. As you loosen up, people may start to go back to bad habits, which could lead to another uptick. And I don’t think the community or the economy here can handle that.

Wexler: What are the citations that you’re issuing?

Chief Ramirez: Even though it’s “zero-tolerance,” we let officers do their job and use their discretion, because at the same time we’re dealing with COVID, we’re also dealing with the perception of police in the community. Fortunately, our image is pretty good here, but I wouldn’t want something to tip the apple cart over.

Usually when it’s a blatant mask violation in a park, we’ll give a citation for that. And the code enforcement people will give citations to businesses. We come in for support if we have to close the business down or give citations to multiple people. We’ve only issued about 500 personal citations to people since July, but our business citations are up at 1,800. But most businesses are in compliance now, because they don’t want to lose what they have.

Our county government has a big portfolio, and under the COVID lockdown a lot of government agencies weren’t operating normally. So we hired security guards from the stadium and used our animal services personnel to create surge teams. These teams go to our challenged communities, educate people, provide masks, and try to dial down the hotspot areas. We rarely issue citations in those communities. We don’t want to overburden them with $100 or $500 fines. We want to make sure they have the education and resources. We have mobile testing sites going into those areas and are doing contact tracing. So we take more of a public health perspective than an enforcement perspective. 


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.