California Governor Gavin Newsom has set the stage for the end of in-person registration during the COVID-19 pandemic. He did so by issuing an Executive Order that authorizes and encourages law enforcement agencies to remotely register individuals telephonically and by other means. The reason for these remote procedures, according to the Order, is to protect both law enforcement personnel as well as registrants.
We acknowledge that the Governor’s order is a suggestion, not a mandate. There are no penalties for law enforcement agencies that choose to disregard it. But the fact remains that remote registration is the only humane method available during this global pandemic.
Registrants must be protected from the threat of COVID-19 infection that exists at every registration site. That threat is found on surfaces such as chairs, counters and clipboards touched by countless others. That threat is also found on paperwork they are required to sign. The greatest threat, however, is experienced during the photographing and fingerprinting processes when registrants are required to remove their face masks and gloves and are even exposed to human physical contact.
The Governor wisely addressed the topic of fingerprints and photographs in his Order. While recognizing that fingerprints and photographs are required by state law, the Governor has suspended that requirement for 60 days. It is a suspension that could and should be extended in future orders.
The timing of the Governor’s Order is late. That is, more than two months have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. And during that time, it is estimated that more than 10,000 people have been required to register in person. More than 10,000 people may have been exposed to COVID-19 and more than 10,000 people may have, in turn, exposed their families to the virus. As of this date, their rate of infection is not yet known.
What is known is that the judges and justices that will make decisions in cases challenging in-person registration that are now pending in several California courts must consider the Governor’s Order. Those judges and justices cannot in good conscious allow law enforcement agencies to reject remote registration because it is an administrative burden.
How can anyone declare that saving the lives of more than 109,000 registrants and their families as well as law enforcement officers is a burden? Instead of a burden, remote registration should be seen as a vital mission, a mission of compassion. Law enforcement officials that view the opportunity to remotely register individuals as a burden do not deserve the government pay that they receive.