When some people in Rockville continued playing basketball games in defiance of a statewide ban on public congregating, city officials took a drastic step: They removed basketball hoops from city parks.
State and local law enforcement authorities said large gatherings had to be broken up throughout Montgomery County since Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order last week to limit gatherings to 10 people during the coronavirus outbreak.
No arrests were reported.
Officers have said people have been congregating in groups of 10 or more to play basketball and other sports in local parks. Additionally, police closed off portions of the Kenwood neighborhood when hundreds of people gathered to see its annual cherry blossoms.
The crowd size limits are one of multiple measures Hogan and governors across the country have taken to slow the spread of coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.
Hogan’s first executive order, on March 12, limited crowds of 250 from gathering. He amended the limit to 50 people on March 16 and 10 people on March 19.
The executive order states that those who violate it can be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of either up to one year in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.
Hogan has repeatedly expressed his frustration and annoyance with people flagrantly disregarding the orders, including young people who went ahead with spring break trips, then returned to Maryland. He has said they are putting people’s live in danger — maybe their own family.
In Rockville, Sgt. Chris Peck, a spokesman for the police department, said that removing the basketball hoops was a proactive measure.
“Everybody agreed that the best step would be eliminating the opportunity for people to gather,” he said.
Peck said officers have the discretion to write a report or charge a person who violates the governor’s order. But he said the department does not want to make arrests.
“All we can do is advise them of what the governor said and hope they would realistically abide by it. If they didn’t, we’re not going to get into an altercation or an escalation,” he said.
On Tuesday, Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson posted a photo on Facebook of two county parks maintenance workers removing a basketball hoop from a park in Silver Spring on Sligo Creek Parkway near Dennis Avenue.
“We’re having the hoops removed because too many people ignored instructions not to gather in large groups or in close proximity to others,” he wrote in the post. “We don’t want to block access to parks or park facilities but we will do it where necessary to keep people safe.”
Anderson urged people to avoid playing team sports in large groups and to use social distancing, ensuring people stay at least six feet apart.
Capt. Jeffrey Coe, a spokesman for the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that since Hogan issued his 10-person limit order, officers have “on occasion” come across groups larger than 10 in Montgomery County parks.
Coe said on Wednesday that there had been 15 cases reported in Montgomery County parks at 14 locations. They included calls to:
- Hillmead Neighborhood Park
- East Norbeck Local
- Quince Orchard Valley (twice)
- Silver Spring Intermediate
- Martin Luther King Recreation Park
- Flower Hill Local Park
- Flemming Local Park
- Southeast Olney Park
- Brookside Gardens
- Layhill Village
- Blueberry Hill Park
- Columbia Local Park
- Stewartown Local Park
- Norwood Local Park
Coe said he knew of one instance when a soccer game had to be broken up on a field, and another when a full-court basketball game had to be broken into smaller games.
“They’ve all said we’ll spread out or go down to smaller groups,” he said.
Similar trends of police being called to the scene of large groups have been seen around the state, said Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police. But no arrests had been made as of Tuesday, he said.
Shipley said there have been 11 gatherings around the state that troopers had to break up, he said, since Hogan issued his latest order on crowd sizes on Thursday.
“They’ve been met with voluntary compliance,” he said.
Shipley said troopers hope the trend of no arrests continues, but they will enforce the order if people don’t comply.
“We do not want this to lead to any kind of criminal charges, but those are there if that action has to be taken,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org