A man about to hop the loosely-chained fence at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, while others run along the track. The area is officially closed under the city’s shelter-in-place order. Photo: Pete Rosos
A man about to hop the loosely-chained fence at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, while others run along the track. The area is officially closed under the city’s shelter-in-place order. Photo: Pete Rosos

Construction crews, people in parks, businesses and local churches: There have been nearly 200 shelter-in-place violations reported in the city of Berkeley since March 18.

Many of the reports, 48 of them, related to construction work, while there were 40 reports about groups in parks, and about 20 each for groups in neighborhoods and issues related to business practices, said Officer Byron White, BPD spokesman, in response to a Berkeleyside inquiry.

This week, Berkeleyside obtained the city’s shelter-in-place violation statistics from March 18 through Saturday, April 4. There were 170 violations reported during that period. There were nearly a dozen reports each related to non-essential businesses and private gatherings, and half a dozen regarding churches and groups outside businesses.

Thus far, White said, the BPD approach has been to respond to the scene of reported violations — when there isn’t more pressing police business — to talk to people about what the rules are and disperse any groups. In mid-March, jurisdictions across the Bay Area adopted strict rules about what sort of activities are now allowed, and in groups of what size, to limit the spread of COVID-19.

It is, in fact, a crime to flout the shelter-in-place order, which is in effect through early May. But Berkeley has not made any arrests for this type of violation as of this week.

“Our goal is for people to change their behavior without us having to issue a citation or take anyone to jail,” White said. “Violating the health order is a misdemeanor that you can be taken to jail for, like any other misdemeanor. But that’s not what we want. That’s not something we think needs to happen.”

Shelter-in-place violation calls as of April 3. Source: BPD

Teresa Drenick, spokeswoman for the Alameda County district attorney’s office, said she was not aware of any charges in Alameda County stemming from shelter-in-place violations. She said inquiries or complaints about shelter-in-place violations should go to the local police agency or the county health officer.

BPD’s non-emergency number is 510-981-5900 and the city also accepts reports through its 311 system. See the full list of Berkeley closures on the city website.

White said most members of the community seem to be making an effort to abide by the rules. But the message hasn’t gotten through to everyone.

“There continues to be a portion, some in our community, who think the rules don’t apply to them,” White said.

Officials at every level of government have pleaded with members of the public to stay home as much as possible to limit the spread of COVID-19. Staying home slows the spread of the infection, which gives officials more time to prepare for a patient surge at California hospitals that’s expected in May.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has been reminding the public daily about the importance of following the shelter-in-place rules.

In Berkeley, the location that’s come up most often in violation reports is San Pablo Park, said White. Calls have also come in about church services on Derby Street, the MLK Youth Center, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, which has a popular track, and parks like Indian Rock, Strawberry Creek, Terrace View and La Loma.

White said police are trying to work with people and are having ongoing conversations with anyone who appears to be violating the order.

“The vast majority of people are doing the right thing,” he said. “For those people who aren’t, they need to take this seriously because this is a serious health emergency.”

Berkeley currently has 34 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases, but testing has been limited and the city does not believe this number represents the infection’s true spread in town. There have been no reported deaths. Elsewhere in Alameda County, however, there have been 640 known cases and 16 deaths.

By one rough estimate, the city was receiving 5-10 reports a day about shelter-in-place violations from March 18-30. They began to increase last week, with a peak of about 21 on April 1. (Berkeleyside has requested the spreadsheets with raw data, through this week, that the city is using to create its charts and mapping; so far it has not been provided.)

Shelter-in-place violation reports as of April 2. Source: City of Berkeley/BPD

White noted that, although the rules stemming from the city’s shelter-in-place order have been an adjustment for everyone, this isn’t the first time Berkeley has faced this challenge.

“Social distancing is not something new. Literally a hundred years ago it happened,” he said, in relation to the 1918 influenza pandemic. “I know it’s extraordinary. A lot of people are uncomfortable with it. But we’re not going to be able to flatten this curve without everyone’s commitment.”

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...