NEW YORK (AP) — In New York City, they’ve started dismantling basketball hoops to prevent people from gathering in parks and playing. In Lakewood, New Jersey, police broke up a wedding being held in violation of a ban on large gatherings. And in Austin, Texas, officers are encouraging people to call a hotline to snitch on violators of the city’s orders for people to stay home.
Police departments are taking a lead role in enforcing social distancing guidelines that health officials say are critical to containing COVID-19. Along with park rangers, fire inspectors and other public servants, officers more accustomed to chasing suspects and solving crimes are spending these troubled days cajoling people to stay at least 6 feet apart.
“We’re used to crowds, we’re used to lines, we’re used to being close together,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a briefing this week. “No more.”
The no-more mandate has forced the New York Police Department — a squad that normally prides itself on protecting packed crowds like the ones at the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration — into service dispersing small groups of people on city streets and public spaces.
Instead of the threat of terrorism, they’re trying to stop the spread of a silent killer that as of Thursday had left more than 1,000 people dead in the U.S., at least 280 of them in New York City — all while trying to avoid using a heavy hand.