‘The pettiness, it has to stop’: Police departments fielding slew of calls over perceived social distancing infractions

Police say they've been fielding a slew of calls about perceived lack adherence to social distancing, including a couple holding hands. Photo credit Doug Hay. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Things have been fairly quiet in police stations across Johnson County.

While COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have been in place, reported crimes, arrested individuals, calls for service and, not surprisingly, traffic accidents are unusually low compared to this time last year.

On the other hand, police departments have fielded dozens of calls each week about non-compliance with stay-at-home orders, especially related to gatherings at parks and ball games on school property.

And some police departments say they’ve seen an increase in residents calling to report on alleged social distancing violations — such as neighbors who have family playing together in the backyard, or couples holding hands on a walk.

“We want to keep people safe, but the pettiness, it has to stop,” said John Lacy with the Overland Park Police Department.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has recommended law enforcement agencies focus on education first, as executive stay-at-home orders must be published for some time before they are enforceable.

Major Byron Roberson with the Prairie Village Police Department echoed some of Lacy’s comments, saying they’ve received several calls from “information gatherers” witnessing non-compliance with physical distancing.

“Here’s the problem: The first thing is that people still have rights; just because you see two or three people standing together and not practicing social distancing, it’s still probably not a good reason for the police to go contact them,” Roberson said. “Asking us to go contact them and not even know if they’re family or not…it’s kind of an invasion.”

Roberson said the police also wants to maintain healthy relationships with residents.

“We need citizens to trust police after this is over,” he said. “If we’re using this opportunity to overstep our bounds and our authority and contact people willy-nilly, there is a chance that when this is all over, they’re not going to forget that.”

Calls related to non-compliance have tapered off across all police agencies as residents have gotten used to the new norm, and businesses that were deemed non-essential were told to close by the Kansas Essential Functions Framework.

Nevertheless, police departments want to make sure people still know they can always call if they need anything or have questions or concerns.

“We understand that this is completely unchartered territory, and we’re kind of in the same boat as a lot of people,” said Capt. Brad Robbins with the Leawood Police Department. “We’re definitely focusing on education as we move forward, just getting through this. It’s a very trying time, and we just ask for patience as we get through this, and respect for each other. We’re all in this together.”

Here’s a comparison of crime reports, arrests, calls for service and traffic crashes compared to last year:

Leawood (March 24 – April 14, 2019 compared with March 24 – April 14, 2020)

  • Calls for service — Last year: 1,678 — This year: 1,093 — 35% decrease
  • Crime reports — Last year: 110 — This year: 50 — 55% decrease
  • Traffic accidents — Last year: 39 — This year: 9 — 77% decrease
  • Arrests — Last year: 22 — This year: 21 — 5% decrease

Lenexa (March 13 – April 14, 2019 compared with March 13 – April 14, 2020)

  • Calls for service — Last year: 4,046 — This year: 1,579 — 61% decrease
  • Crime reports — Last year: 1,101 — This year: 626 — 43% decrease
  • Traffic accidents — Last year: 92 — This year: 25 —  73% decrease
  • Arrests — Last year: 372 — This year: 92 — 75% decrease

Overland Park (March 24 – April 14, 2019 compared with March 24 – April 14, 2020)

  • Calls for service — Last year: 3,399 — This year: 2,555 — 25% decrease
  • Crime reports — Last year: 454 — This year: 273 — 40% decrease
  • Traffic accidents — Last year: 237 — This year: 86 — 64% decrease
  • Arrests — Last year: 342 — This year: 139 — 59% decrease

Prairie Village (March 24 – April 14, 2019 compared with March 24 – April 14, 2020)

  • Calls for service — Last year: 1,455 — This year: 614 — 58% decrease
  • Crime reports — Last year: 45 — This year: 27 — 40% decrease
  • Traffic accidents — Last year: 36 — This year: 9 — 75% decrease
  • Arrests — Last year: 13 — This year: 12 — 8% decrease

Shawnee (March 24 – April 14, 2019 compared with March 24 – April 14, 2020)

  • Calls for service — Last year: 2,360 — This year: 1,624 — 31% decrease
  • Crime reports — Last year: 214 — This year: 132 — 38% decrease
  • Traffic accidents — Last year: 43 — This year: 15 — 65% decrease
  • Arrests — Last year: 124 — This year: 41 — 67% decrease

If anyone has questions about the COVID-19 shutdown, they can call Johnson County’s hotline  at (913) 715-2819,  which is available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.