American Law Enforcement Responses to COVID-19

14 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2020 Last revised: 11 May 2021

Date Written: October 7, 2020


During the spring and summer of 2020, what role did law enforcement play in promoting COVID-19 restrictions in the United States? Because most law enforcement in the US occurs at the local level, we conducted a survey of local police departments to examine their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our results show that most departments, especially departments in smaller jurisdictions, played a minimal role in enforcing COVID-related restrictions and tended to only encourage compliance. Further, it was extremely rare for a department to use sophisticated surveillance technology to monitor COVID compliance. This lack of monitoring stands in stark contrast to both the regimes employed by several comparable industrialized countries and the broad surveillance powers permissible under the U.S. Constitution.

Keywords: COVID-19, law enforcement, surveillance, survey, law and social science

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Kugler, Matthew B. and Oliver, Mariana and Chu, Jonathan and Lee, Nathan, American Law Enforcement Responses to COVID-19 (October 7, 2020). 112 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Online, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 20-25, Available at SSRN: or

Matthew B. Kugler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Mariana Oliver

Northwestern University, Pritzker School of Law ( email )

Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Jonathan Chu

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States


Nathan Lee

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) ( email )

Rochester, NY 14623
United States

Stanford University, Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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