Police in Newark have begun enforcing the mayor’s shelter-in-place order for the entire city, amid a rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state’s largest city.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to save your life,” said Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose. “We’re not trying to arrest you. We’re trying to give you a warning to get off the street, to go inside, to protect yourself.”
An example of what that police looks like on the street came Thursday as police visited a convenience store just two blocks from their headquarters.
Police announced their presence with a formal warning.
“You are hereby reminded that the state of New Jersey and the city of Newark’s mayor have executive orders on social distancing,” Capt. Mike Lopez said from the public address system in his car. “You are to remain six feet apart from each other for your health and welfare.”
As the sirens blared, the crowd began to break up.
Mayor Ras Baraka announced the shelter in place order on Wednesday night. He says he’s serious about it and so does the public safety director.
On Thursday, one liquor store owner and its occupants learned that lesson the hard way, when officials ordered it to close and summonses were issued.
“Usually liquor stores draw a crowd — some of them, not all of them,” Ambrose said. “There was a crowd. There was no social distancing in front it. Inside there was groups. So, anything the officers do observe like that, they’re going to be summonsed.”
Baraka’s order allows people to go to work and get essentials from grocery stores, pharmacies and liquor stores.
On the street, there’s a begrudging acceptance among some, of the wisdom behind the order and that cops are just doing their jobs.
“They’re doing what they have to do and I appreciate that,” said one man, who was wearing gloves. “Some people can’t stay at home because some people have to make a living. Some people have to work. But, it’s a good idea to stay home. For those who do not work.”
Ambrose said his officers are looking to make residents safer.
“If we get 75%, 80% compliance, that means that’s 80% less people that can contract and spread this virus,” he said. “When it comes down to social disruption, social distancing, people don’t like it.”
Ambrose says the department has given officers protective gear, told them to take most reports by phone to reduce contact but still respond in person to domestic violence calls.
Still, more than a dozen city officers and firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 200 have been quarantined. “There’s no interruption to public safety in the city,” he added.
Ambrose has called for first responders to get prioritized in the COVID-19 testing that’s underway and on Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that on Saturday, both FEMA-sponsored drive-up testing centers, in Bergen and Monmouth Counties, will be open only to first responders and health care providers.
“When you’re in an airplane, they tell you when the masks come down, ‘Put your oxygen on first before you help somebody,’” he said. “Well, we should be tested because we’re out here helping people. We can’t help them if we can’t help ourselves.”
As of Thursday, Newark had 155 confirmed COVID-19 cases among its population.