Coronavirus fears prompt call for SF police to halt arrests in non-violent cases
Public defender asks SFPD to reduce ‘all unnecessary contact’ with detainees who pose no safety risk
By Michael Barba – San Francisco Examiner – March 12, 2020
Citing the need to undercut the spread of coronavirus, San Francisco’s public defender has called on police to stop issuing citations or arresting people for crimes as serious as non-violent felonies.
Public Defender Manohar Raju sent a letter to Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday urging him to help ensure that “detained persons are not inadvertently being exposed to a life-threatening illness.”
“As we all follow recommendations to avoid congregating and preserving more personal distance than usual,” Raju wrote, “We must be especially mindful to reduce criminal legal system contact to the greatest extent possible, while also upholding the duty to protect public safety.”
Raju asked Scott to command his officers to “reduce all unnecessary contact with the community.”
He said officers should stop citing or arresting people for infractions, misdemeanors and non-violent felonies “unless there is a clear and present danger of imminent harm.”
The public defender specifically requested that people not be cited for infractions, or cited or arrested for “low-level misdemeanors that do not pose a public safety risk.”
The San Francisco Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this week, Raju called on Sheriff Paul Miyamoto to take steps to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in San Francisco’s jails. He also asked Miyamoto to help secure the release of inmates who may be vulnerable to the virus or eligible to be let out.
On Thursday, Miyamoto published an action plan to prevent the virus from spreading with measures that included beefed-up screening procedures for people being booked.
“We screen every person for infectious diseases as part of the jail booking process,” Dr. Lisa Pratt, medical director of Jail Health Services, said in a statement. “In addition, we have instituted enhanced screening and isolation procedures to rapidly identify and separate any person with concerning symptoms.”
While the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in San Francisco climbed to 18 on Thursday, no inmates have tested positive at this point, according to city officials.
Raju has also asked the Police Department to produce a plan for avoiding the spread of coronavirus on items like handcuffs and in areas including police vehicles and holding cells.