PHOENIX– Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued a formal legal opinion today regarding the lawful authority of local law enforcement and county sheriffs to enforce emergency declarations. In short, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) concluded that local law enforcement officials and county sheriffs have authority under A.R.S. § 26–316 to enforce provisions of lawful emergency declarations issued by cities and towns, as long as they are consistent with orders, rules and regulations promulgated by the governor.
Sen. Paul Boyer recently posed the following question to the AGO:
If a city or town issues a lawful emergency declaration, what authority do local law enforcement and county sheriffs have to enforce such declarations?
Under A.R.S. § 26–317, individuals who knowingly fail or refuse to obey a lawful order under the emergency management laws may be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor. In exercising such authority, however, law enforcement officials must continue to be mindful of constitutional rights and should execute their duties in a manner that promotes justice.
Many cities and towns in Arizona have issued emergency declarations in response to public health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic under the authority granted to them in A.R.S. § 26–311. This statute generally allows “the mayor of an incorporated city or town or the chairman of the board of supervisors” to declare an emergency and impose necessary regulations “to preserve the peace and order” but it “shall not be inconsistent with orders, rules and regulations promulgated by the governor[.]”
The opinion concludes that while individuals who knowingly fail or refuse to obey a lawful order under the emergency management laws may be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor, law enforcement agencies must take care to maintain constitutional safeguards that exist to protect individual rights and fundamental liberties. Similarly, just as Arizona’s health authorities should not issue unjust or discriminatory public health orders, state and local law enforcement agencies must continue to enforce the law in a manner that promotes justice.