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Arizona AG: Local police can enforce COVID-19 emergency orders

Local police and sheriffs in Arizona can enforce emergency orders issued during the coronavirus outbreak, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said, including making arrests under state law.

Brnovich issued a formal legal opinion Tuesday regarding the lawful authority of local law enforcement and county sheriffs to enforce emergency declarations.

The AG determined that local police and deputies "have authority under ARS 26–316 to enforce provisions of lawful emergency declarations issued by cities and towns, as long as they are consistent with orders, rules and regulations promulgated by the governor."

The legal opinion was prompted by a query from state Sen. Paul Boyer.

From Brnovich's office:

Under A.R.S. § 26–317, individuals who knowingly fail or refuse to obey a lawful order under the emergency management laws may be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor. In exercising such authority, however, law enforcement officials must continue to be mindful of constitutional rights and should execute their duties in a manner that promotes justice.

Many cities and towns in Arizona have issued emergency declarations in response to public health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic under the authority granted to them in A.R.S. § 26–311. This statute generally allows “the mayor of an incorporated city or town or the chairman of the board of supervisors” to declare an emergency and impose necessary regulations “to preserve the peace and order” but it “shall not be inconsistent with orders, rules and regulations promulgated by the governor[.]”

The opinion concludes that while individuals who knowingly fail or refuse to obey a lawful order under the emergency management laws may be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor, law enforcement agencies must take care to maintain constitutional safeguards that exist to protect individual rights and fundamental liberties.  Similarly, just as Arizona’s health authorities should not issue unjust or discriminatory public health orders, state and local law enforcement agencies must continue to enforce the law in a manner that promotes justice.

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Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and Pima County Chairman Richard Elias both issued emergency orders in the past week, while orders by Gov. Doug Ducey have limited the ability of local jurisdictions to determine that many businesses are non-essential.

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rnovich speaking with attendees at the Converge Tech Summit at the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, January 29.