Police Tread Lightly as Pandemic Spreads – The New York Times

Posted By on March 23, 2020

There were glimpses of how much could be at stake.

A month before the coronavirus outbreak led to orders that tens of millions of Americans largely stay at home, white supremacists had urged each other to spread the virus by filling spray bottles with saliva, spitting on elevator buttons and other ways, intelligence officials said.

The bioterrorism plot was detailed in an unclassified intelligence briefing in late February by the Federal Protective Service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Hate group members used the instant messaging application Telegram to urge each other to weaponize the virus and target law enforcement officers and nonwhite communities.

There was no evidence members of hate groups took any of those actions.

But Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview Sunday that its not surprising that hate groups have been trying to seize on the anxiety and confusion over the coronavirus outbreak.

I think were all in the fog of war trying to understand what the coronavirus will mean for our families, our firms and our society as a whole, Mr. Greenblatt said.

And sometimes, the virus and traditional police work intersect.

On March 6, police in Portland, received a report of the theft of 20 to 25 cases of N95 respirator masks, each case containing 400 masks. The next day, the theft victim discovered someone selling what seemed to be the same masks on Craigslist. A 22-year-old man was arrested on theft charges, eventually 13 boxes of the masks were recovered, and the theft victim donated all the masks to local hospitals for dealing with the coronavirus, police said.

Still, across the country there have been few arrests so far related to the coronavirus. That was in stark contrast to the stringent approach of police forces abroad.

In Jordan, 400 people were arrested after violating a nationwide curfew introduced on Saturday. A 26-year-old man was arrested on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, after failing to self-isolate. He faces a possible fine of up to 10,000 pounds (about $11,500) and prison. As of Friday, more than 31,000 people in Spain had been reported for not abiding by stay-at-home rules, according to the countrys Interior Minister, Fernando Grande Marlaska.

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Police Tread Lightly as Pandemic Spreads - The New York Times

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