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Only Sheriff, San Diego Police Have Cited Nonessential Businesses For Staying Open

A San Diego smoke shop sign, April 14, 2020.
Nicholas McVicker
A San Diego smoke shop sign, April 14, 2020.

During the coronavirus outbreak, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered that only "essential" businesses like grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies can stay open — but some businesses are defying those orders and recently police have been cracking down.

We reached out to every city police department in the county, as well as the sheriff's department and California Highway Patrol, to see if they had cited non-essential businesses for staying open. Only two agencies have: San Diego Police and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Has local law enforcement cited non-essential businesses for staying open?

San Diego Police: Yes (18 citations)

Chula Vista Police: No

La Mesa Police: No

Escondido Police: No

Port of San Diego Harbor Police: No

Carlsbad Police: No

El Cajon Police: No

Oceanside Police: No

San Diego County Sheriff: Yes (3 citations)

Coronado Police: No

Local CHP: No

National City Police: No

A sheriff’s spokesperson said Tuesday three total citations have been issued to a couple of hair salons and an adult store. The citations were issued in Del Mar, Encinitas and Spring Valley.


San Diego police have given 18 citations to business owners. Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said the department initially took a strictly educational approach.

"What we realized is is that education only went so far," he said.

Earlier this month officers started ticketing businesses deemed “non-essential” under the governor's stay at home order.

"It’s complaint driven and observation driven and most of the businesses are in compliance," Takeuchi said.

Some, however, are not.


"Of the 18 citations, just interestingly, 17 of the businesses just happen to be smoke shops where they sell smoking paraphernalia," Takeuchi said.

SDPD responds to complaints of business in violation. Officers have discretion for enforcement.

"They issued citations in locations where they felt that the business owner knew not to operate but they were in defiance of that order," Takeuchi said.

Only Sheriff, San Diego Police Have Cited Non-Essential Businesses For Staying Open

Even though nearly all the SDPD citations have gone to smoke shops, Takeuchi said the department is not targeting them.

"We have been going to other locations... restaurants, bars, gymnasiums, whatever. It’s just for whatever reason it appears that smoke shops are the predominant businesses that seems to be defying the order," Takeuchi said. "We don’t have a reason. I can tell you were are not specifically targeting those locations."

Non-essential business owners who are keeping stores open face steep penalties.

"It is punishable up to six months in jail and or a $1,000 fine," Takeuchi said.

The city attorney will be reviewing each citation issued by SDPD officers.

Local agencies including National City police, El Cajon police, and Escondido police added they are continuing to work with and educate local businesses to ensure compliance.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.