Are Los Angeles Police Conducting ‘Spot Checks’ on ‘Non-Essential’ Driving?

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Los Angeles police have instituted a policy of conducting "spot checks" and ticketing motorists for non-essential travel.

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A social media dispute broke out around comedian Ashley Ray on March 25 2020, after she posted what she called an advisory for people venturing outside in Los Angeles amid the city’s stay-in-place order to limit spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Heads up LA: Cops are starting to pull people over as spot checks to see where you’re going/coming from,” she wrote:

If it’s considered nonessential, they will give you a $400 ticket. Just happened to a friend of my coworker’s coming back from her boyfriend’s place … Apparently the girl was dropping off supplies on her sick boyfriend’s porch, got stopped on the way home and said ‘I’m headed home from dropping stuff off at my bf’s’ and got a ticket. Kinda scary if youre taking care of any relatives/friends who dont live with you.

The city has been under a shelter-in-place order since March 19, when Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office ordered residents to remain at home to limit the spread of the disease. However, dropping supplies off for a partner does qualify as an “essential activity” under the terms of Garcetti’s public order:

To engage in certain essential activities, including, without limitation, visiting a health or veterinary care professional, obtaining medical supplies or medication, obtaining grocery items (including, without limitation, canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet supplies, fresh or frozen meats, fish, and poultry, any other household consumer products and products necessary to maintain the safety and sanitation of residences and other buildings) for their household or to deliver to others, or for legally mandated government purposes.

The order also states, “Failure to comply with this Order shall constitute a misdemeanor subject to fines and imprisonment. I hereby urge the Los Angeles Police Department and the City Attorney to vigorously enforce this Order via Sections 8.77 and 8.78 of the Los Angeles Administrative Code.”

We contacted Los Angeles police for comment about the accounts of “spot checks,” and a spokesperson called it a false rumor. “If we do issue citations, the fine would come from the court,” the spokesperson said. The department had previously denied a separate claim that it was issuing tickets to people seen running for exercise.

Ray later posted photographs of what she called text messages from the person who shared their account of the police stops.

“Two separate coworkers from two different teams said this to me,” she wrote. “I am sharing the info so ppl can be aware of possible consequences. I do not know why I would want attention for that. I can get attention for so many other things.”

Business Insider reported that 662 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in Los Angeles, with 11 deaths confirmed from the disease as of March 25 2020. Garcetti told the site that residents should be prepared to stay inside for their safety for at least two more months and to “be prepared for longer.”