The city of Boise has deployed several of its code enforcers to serve as “social distancing ambassadors,” focusing primarily on public parks and playgrounds. They aren’t handing out citations or fines, at least not yet, but they are attempting to “gain compliance” with social distancing recommendations, according to Craig Croner, administrative services manager for Boise.
Fortunately, the compliance seekers in Boise haven’t yet escalated their actions to the level of police officers handcuffing a father in front of his 6-year-old daughter for allegedly violating social distancing protocols, like what occurred at a Colorado park. However, there are still some troubling elements worth addressing.
Here’s the most fundamental question: What is the proper role of government in “trying to just gain compliance” from individuals visiting a public park? Under what conditions should people be approached (and reproached) by government employees while enjoying an afternoon with their children at the local playground?
Every action, including visiting a park, carries with it some element of risk. Getting out of bed, driving to the park, walking through the grass, playing with your children. Each choice carries some possibility of harm, but the decision to undertake any of these activities lies with the individual, not the government.
No doubt, the folks in Boise’s city government believe they are only doing what is necessary, given the current climate of fear and panic regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus. National, subnational, and local governments around the world are creating and enforcing a host of new regulations, prohibitions, and mandates in response to what they consider a crisis. They say these measures are only temporary, but that they’re necessary right now.
As Boise redirects its code enforcers to elicit compliance with social distancing policies, we find ourselves increasingly constrained by the edicts issued in response to the pandemic. We are not supposed to live in a police state. We are supposed to live in a state of individual choice that does not necessitate fathers being handcuffed for playing ball with their children in a public park.