NEW YORK (AP) – In New York City, they began to dismantle basketball hoops to prevent people from gathering in the parks and playing. In Lakewood, New Jersey, police dissolved a wedding held in violation of the ban on large gatherings. And in Austin, Texas, officers are encouraging people to call a hotline to mock violators of city orders for people to stay home.
Police departments are playing a major role in applying the social distancing guidelines that health officials say are critical to containing COVID-19. Along with park rangers, fire inspectors, and other public servants, the officers most used to chasing suspects and solving crimes are spending troublesome days these days to convince people to stay at least 6 feet away.
"We are used to crowds, we are used to lines, we are used to being together," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a briefing this week. "No more."
The No More Mandate has compelled the New York Police Department, a squad that normally prides itself on protecting crowded crowds such as those at the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration, to the service that disperses small groups of people in the streets and public spaces of the city.
In lieu of the threat of terrorism, they are trying to stop the spread of a silent killer who as of Thursday had left more than 1,000 people dead in the United States, at least 280 of them in New York City, all while trying to avoid use A heavy hand.
For starters, the country's largest police department made thousands of visits to bars and restaurants to make sure they were observing a shutdown of imposed dinner services this month, resulting in warnings but only a handful of appointments.
Now comes an effort to impose restrictions on parks, playgrounds, housing project yards and sidewalks, where some people flock out of habit or indifference as temperatures rise. On Wednesday, de Blasio said the city was removing basketball hoops on 80 of its 1,700 public courts, places where he said people were ignoring instructions not to shoot at anyone outside their home.
The app will also include marked patrols driving through Brooklyn's Prospect Park and other popular outdoor getaways around the city, broadcasting recorded reminders of the importance of social estrangement.
The New York Police video shot on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and posted on Twitter showed a squad slowly rolling down an almost empty street, occupied by just two people running on opposite sides of the street, and playing a message that she implores: "Please help us keep it safe."
Additionally, the city is mobilizing departments to form roving surveillance teams for the effort, including members of the parks and fire departments and the mayor's community affairs unit.
People are not discouraged from going out to breathe fresh air alone, as couples or as families. But other activities like team sports or gatherings like family outdoor barbecues will be closed, de Blasio said.
"If we see people in groups, we are going to separate them," he said. "If we see a place that is too crowded, we are going to make people scatter."
De Blasio said he would even consider closing playgrounds as early as Saturday if families don't follow new rules to "not crowd them,quot; or allow "children to play with children outside of their own family."
In New Jersey, police have charged three people in recent days for holding large meetings defying a state ban. In San Jose, California, officers verified the compliance of 369 companies and issued their first appointment on Wednesday. If the city's parks and trails continue to be crowded with residents, authorities could be forced to step up enforcement, which, according to chief Eddie Garcia, could be difficult to determine.
"You can't play light red light, green light’ and say ‘everyone, freeze! Let's take out a tape measure! "", Said.
In New York City, officers patrolling recreation areas and enforcing social distancing this week saw "many empty soccer fields and many empty basketball courts, which is good," said the department's department head. York Police Officer Terence Monahan.
For now, the department is trying to avoid a looser approach used in Italy that is believed to have only fueled infection rates, while avoiding any appearance of Big Brother-type repression in China.
As the crisis worsened, Italy ordered the police to patrol the cafes to make sure that people stayed away and that stores closed at 6 p.m. every day, just to see that the death count continues to rise. Since then it has closed bars and cafes entirely.
In China, officials took more extreme measures, such as locking people inside their apartment complexes. A state news agency even released what it claimed was a video of a drone sent to chase and embarrass people who don't wear masks.
Photos and videos from India's social media showed police officers in surgical masks using batons to keep offenders in line.
There were also reports that Singapore authorities criminally charged a couple who lied about their travel history and revoked the residence of a man who broke his medical quarantine.
At this point, New York police say, the effort is "more about education and compliance," Monahan said. "It's about explaining to people the dangers involved and that this is a different world."
Associated Press reporters Olga R. Rodríguez in San Francisco, Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this report. Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Scientific Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Get email alerts from Boston.com:
Sign up and receive breaking news about coronavirus and updates from our newsroom to your inbox.