The Miami-Dade County Police Department, one of the 10 largest law enforcement agencies in the U.S., has instructed its officers to issue promises to appear and civil citations for all misdemeanor crimes during the COVID-19 outbreak barring “exigent circumstances” requiring an arrest, a spokesperson confirmed to The Appeal.
“The department’s direction is the utilization of Promise To Appear (PTA) and Civil Citations for misdemeanor crimes … unless exigent circumstances require a physical arrest,” department spokesperson Alvaro Zabaleta wrote in an email. “This doesn’t mean we are going to stop doing police work, we just have to prioritize our strategies given the affect [sic] this virus has on the entire criminal justice system; e.g., jails, courts etc., and the wellbeing of the officers.”
The announcement comes after the Miami Herald reported today that at least 13 officers and three civilian aides from the City of Miami Police Department were sent home to self-quarantine after exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
Other police departments in Florida—especially the other 34 police departments within Miami-Dade County alone—are likely to follow suit in the coming days or hours. Spokespersons for the City of Miami and Miami Beach Police Departments did not immediately respond to messages from The Appeal this afternoon.
As Florida—and South Florida in particular—emerges as a national hotspot for COVID-19, civil-rights organizations are pressuring local police departments and prosecutors to reduce their jail populations. In an open letter last week, at least 18 civil-rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, demanded that Miami-Dade County take drastic
measures to reduce its jail population before COVID-19 spreads through the jail system.
“During this pandemic, incarcerated people are at increased risk of exposure and death,” the letter stated. “The unsanitary and dangerous living conditions in our jails make them a petri dish for viral infection, and neither the jails nor the county hospital [has] the capacity to handle such a large outbreak.”
The Herald has since reported that jail bookings are slightly down from county averages in the last week. (In the Tampa area, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister released 164 people from his county jail Thursday to hopefully slow the virus’s spread.)
Via email, Zabaleta, the Miami police spokesperson, said the department’s directives are in place indefinitely until further notice.
“With the ongoing challenges we are facing due to the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), we must continually adapt,” Zabaleta wrote. “Therefore, we must remain flexible as the departmental directives may change. We hope our county returns to its normality soon.”
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