Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall says that shelter-in-place orders spurred by the coronavirus are “symbolic in nature and will only serve to panic an already uneasy and unstable community.”
While Hall agrees with limiting gathering places and staying at home, he also said this in a Thursday morning email to the Fresno Police Officers Association:
“(W)e all need to take a breath and not succumb to our fears. We are talking about criminalizing our civil liberties and taking away the constitutional rights of our citizens.”
Sharing information, Hall wrote, would be the best strategy, “not idle threats.”
“People are a lot smarter than we’re giving them credit for, even the poor and under-educated,” his email stated.
Hall’s opinions are part of a debate taking place across the nation.
How aggressive must government be to contain the COVID-19 pandemic? Does government err on the side of caution? And what civil liberties must be maintained or temporarily suspended?
Chief’s Words Come Before Newsom’s Order
Hall sent the email hours before Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted a mandatory statewide stay-at-home order Thursday night.
Through Friday, six COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Fresno County.
As of 11 a.m. Friday, the state had 1,063 confirmed cases and 21 deaths.
Hall: ‘I Stand by Everything I Wrote’
“I stand by everything I wrote. I’m not going to back away from it,” Hall told GV Wire on Thursday evening.
Hall’s comments came following Wednesday’s emergency city council meeting where a voluntary shelter-in-place order was discussed and imposed by Fresno City Manager Wilma Quan on behalf of Mayor Lee Brand.
According to Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld, the mayor and a majority of councilmembers initially sought a mandatory order that included criminal penalties of $1,000 fines and up to a year in jail for violators.
But Hall argued strongly against a mandatory order, as did Quan, early Wednesday morning. By the time the order was announced that afternoon, it had become a voluntary directive.
Asked about how the directive unfolded, Brand said in an emailed statement to GV Wire: “We had a frank conversation about the city’s steps to best curb the coronavirus, we came to a consensus, and made a positive decision. I appreciate the honesty and the spirit of cooperation that exists at City Hall and we are doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of our residents.”
Bredefeld Opposed Making Fresno Order Mandatory
In a telephone interview with GV Wire on Friday morning, Bredefeld said that he backed Hall’s and Quan’s position.
“When I became aware of what they were attempting to do, I met with the city manager and the police chief, and expressed that that could not be allowed to happen and supported their efforts to make sure the mandatory order involving criminal penalties and fines was not signed.” — Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld
“If not for the city manager’s refusal to sign that (original) order and strongly standing up for the people of Fresno, the mayor and the majority of the city council would have enacted an order, where if you did not stay in your home and left it, you could have been subjected to a criminal penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, which would have been outrageous and completely insane,” Bredefeld said.
“When I became aware of what they were attempting to do, I met with the city manager and the police chief, and expressed that that could not be allowed to happen and supported their efforts to make sure the mandatory order involving criminal penalties and fines was not signed.”
Newsom’s Order Overrides Fresno’s
However, Newsom’s mandatory order Thursday night superseded Fresno’s call to voluntarily shelter at home. Newsom said he doesn’t expect police will be needed to enforce his stay-at-home order, saying “social pressure” already has led to social distancing statewide.
“I don’t believe the people of California need to be told through law enforcement that it’s appropriate just to home isolate,” he said.
Hall wrote that he understood arrests might be necessary at some point if voluntary compliance proved ineffective, but said a “majority will do the right thing without your threats and will support our government and rule of law after this is over.”
Hall Is Critical of Government Employees
Hall praised police officers but had harsh words for other government employees, including city workers.
“I am ashamed of our civil servants. We all gladly accept the pay, benefits, and security that our hardworking taxpayers provide us to serve them, however at the first sign of trouble, we abandon them and go home,” Hall wrote.
Earlier this week, Quan, the city manager, directed city employees 65 and older and those with chronic health problems to stay home from work as a precaution against coronavirus infection.
Hall met with his officers this week, expecting them to work. He said eight of his 800-plus sworn officers went home. Another 48 non-sworn police department employees also left because of Quan’s directive.
“If you are receiving a paycheck, you owe them to work. I don’t think they should be getting paid to stay home,” Hall told GV Wire Thursday night. “If they chose to stay home, they should be treated like every other citizen, and use their generous government benefits or stay home without pay.”
“Now is not the time for us to cut and run,” Hall wrote in the letter.
City Union Leader Responds to Hall’s Comments
“I am aware that these may be his personal feelings, but as a professional, I think he is disconnected to what is happening to our nation,” — FCEA President Sam Frank
Sam Frank, president of the Fresno City Employees Association, disagreed with Hall’s assessment.
“I am aware that these may be his personal feelings, but as a professional, I think he is disconnected to what is happening to our nation,” Frank said.
Frank said the federal and state government is committing billions to help businesses cope with COVID-19.
“If we are helping employees here using taxpayer dollars, and the president is helping employers … using taxpayer dollars, what’s the difference?” Frank said. “I don’t see the point in being disappointed with the civil servants.”
Frank said he listened to Hall make similar comments at a meeting of other union members. He agreed with it — until Hall spoke about government employees.
“I don’t think it is up to the Chief to make that call. I respect him and he is more than entitled to his opinion. But, I don’t share his opinion.”
Hall Says Opinions Shaped by 40 Years’ Experience
During his GV Wire interview, Hall said his opinions were formed from his 40 years in the police department, including considerable experience with crowd control.
He supported closing bars, because that’s where people congregate.
“If you have nothing to do, you tend to stay home. It was mandating where I have the problem,” Hall said.
“Let the community absorb this and not create a panic. I’ve worked crowd control most of my career. If I push a crowd too fast, it leads to panic. If we address them, they tend to comply.”
Hall also said he’s barely taken a sick day during his career, accumulating 3,000 hours of unused leave time.
“I’m saving it in case I get cancer or something happens. That is my insurance policy. I thank the taxpayers every day. I hope I never have to use it.”
Views on Governor’s Statewide Action
As of Thursday evening, Hall had not seen Gov. Newsom’s stay-at-home order, but said he preferred that people have “a chance to absorb this before it becomes mandatory.”
He said enforcing Fresno’s order, voluntary or not, when other jurisdictions have not imposed similar restrictions made the job more difficult.
“Consistency is important. Something enforced throughout the state is more palatable,” Hall said. “We will come together. We will have a plan.”
Police Union President Supports Hall
FPOA President Todd Frazier agreed with Hall’s sentiments.
“He had some serious constitutional issues that he raised to the council and mayor before they implemented their current order,” Frazier told GV Wire.
“We are trying to maintain a level of civility and calmness in the community, and we agree there are serious concerns with the constitutionality issues he has legitimately raised (regarding the order if it were mandatory). The FPOA applauded this email and we wholeheartedly support him in the position he states in it.”
Read a copy of the letter, first posted on Twitter by former Fresno City Councilman Jerry Duncan: