Miami-Dade County police have stopped issuing mask and curfew citations, calling the tickets pointless after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis canceled fines for violating emergency COVID-19 orders.
The county’s court system reported a sudden drop in emergency-order citations against businesses last weekend. During the weekend of March 5, courts reported 46 citations for violating emergency orders, all but one against businesses. During the weekend that ended Sunday, courts received zero emergency-order citations.
“We’re no longer issuing emergency-order citations,” said Det. Alvaro Zabaleta, spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department. “We’re no longer doing it because the governor pardoned everything.”
Last weekend was the first since DeSantis announced on March 10 that all fines for violating local COVID-19 orders were canceled. He called the type of citations that can carry $500 fines in Miami-Dade an example of “unprecedented” government overreach that didn’t improve compliance with public-health measures.
On Monday, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava released a statement with the county governments in Broward and Palm Beach criticizing the DeSantis move on COVID-19 fines. The mayor stated that even with hospitalization rates in retreat and other COVID statistics improving, “now is not the time to throw caution to the wind as we are so close to putting this pandemic behind us.”
The statement said the DeSantis order “inadvertently sends a message to residents and the business community alike that common-sense measures to fight COVID-19 are no longer needed…”
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has been a top critic of DeSantis and the governor’s restrictions on COVID-19 enforcement. The city he leads is managing an influx of spring break visitors, and Gelber last week expressed astonishment at police having fewer enforcement tools.
“This is pretty bizarre honestly,” he said. “It almost feels like he wants to be the champion for letting the virus surge through the community. I have no earthly idea why anyone would want to champion that cause.”
Zabaleta noted businesses that violate the county’s midnight curfew are still being told to close down. If they refuse, the proprietors could face jail time since violating emergency orders can carry either civil or criminal penalties.
While the governor canceled fines tied to civil penalties, the criminal option remains, Zabaleta said.
“If they refuse, then they are subject to arrest,” he said.
Miami-Dade police administrators spelled out the new approach in a Friday message to officers that county orders on curfew and other COVID measures remain in place but that citations are no longer an option.
“Despite the Governor’s Order, all restrictions imposed by Miami-Dade County Emergency Orders (EOs), including the curfew, remain valid and enforceable,” read the advisory. “Nevertheless, due to the fact that the County cannot collect fines on its citations, officers should no longer issue civil citations for violations of the County EOs.
“Instead, officers should educate individuals and businesses as to the requirements in the EOs. If an individual or business continually fails to comply, officers are to contact a supervisor to determine whether an arrest is appropriate.”