Enforcing the Public Health Order: Nearly 400 Cited in Course of a Month

Data from public records requests shows violations spiked near popular coastal hiking trails

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San Diego County law enforcement agencies have cited nearly 400 people for violating the county’s public health order since the beginning of last month, according to records obtained by NBC 7 Investigates.

In an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19, law enforcement agencies throughout California have used citations as a way to enforce public health orders. 

Police officers in San Diego County wrote a total of 401 citations to 392 people who disobeyed the public health order.

Chart: Dorian Hargrove

San Diego had written the highest number of citations, with San Diego Police Department officers writing 151 tickets from April 1 through May 1. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department deputies had written the second-highest number of citations, 135.

Carlsbad, the fifth largest city in the county, had the third-highest number of citations. There, officers wrote 112 citations from April 4 through May 2, according to records analyzed by NBC 7. Nearly 40 percent of citations were written during the last weekend in April. 

The location in Carlsbad with the highest number of tickets was the Hubbs Trail at Agua Hedionda Lagoon. 

Jolene Retaskie lives across from the entrance to the Hubbs Trail at Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad.

Retaskie said she witnessed countless hikers crouching under the yellow caution tape on a daily basis.  

“We saw police officers and sometimes lifeguards on a nightly basis,” said Retaskie.

“I think if the rules are clear and if you break them, then you should get the consequence of that. I mean we are trying to teach our kids the right thing to do. I saw people going down there laughing at the tape or the signs.”

A spokesperson for the city of Carlsbad said officers were instructed to inform first and cite as a “last resort.” 

“During this unprecedented and ever-changing time, our community safety goal, as it relates to the health orders, has always been to gain compliance through education. We are grateful to the overwhelming majority of Carlsbad for their support and cooperation. We issued citations as a last resort to those who chose to enter closed areas like parks, trails and beaches,” said the city spokesperson. 

To try and mitigate the financial impact, the city of Carlsbad wrote citations based on the city’s municipal code, which puts much less of a burden on the recipient.

First-time recipients of a citation for the municipal code violation in the City of Carlsbad will have to pay a fine of no more than $200 and may be subject to conditional sentencing and probation. Recipients who repeatedly violate the order will face stricter penalties.

On the other hand, for those who received one of the citations from other law enforcement agencies within San Diego County, could face up to $1,000 in fines or up to six months in jail for violating the health order. 

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