Law Enforcement’s Role in Preventing Epidemics: Enforcing Communicable Disease Quarantine Policies

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Donald Lowenthal


The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) currently has no policy providing guidance to its police officers on how to enact the quarantine enforcement component of the Isolation and Quarantine Plan (IQP) developed by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH). Quarantine restricts the movement of healthy people who may have been exposed to a contagious patient infected with a communicable disease.[1] The use of quarantine has successfully stopped the spread of disease to otherwise healthy people in the community.[2] Enforcing a successful quarantine plan may be the only method available to stop the spread of life-threatening communicable diseases. This thesis examines how a quarantine policy can be enforced by the PPD to stop the spread of communicable infectious diseases.

This thesis explores the enforcement of quarantine orders during communicable disease events between 1976 and 2018. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic had begun as this thesis was completed and is not included.[3] The quarantine enforcement policies include forced quarantine, self-quarantine, and hybrid quarantine plans. Quarantine enforcement was used during the 2003 outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Canada, in response to the 2014 Ebola virus disease scare in the United States, and with the 2009 H1N1 epidemic in China, among others.[4] Therefore, based on these findings, this thesis addresses how the Philadelphia Police Department, along with other member agencies and community stakeholders, can quarantine people during communicable disease incidents. The research indicates, as case law establishes, that forced quarantine cannot be implemented successfully without evidence-based practices to support it. The use of self-quarantine benefits from providing essential services to quarantined citizens and the powers of arrest should only be used after reasonable means have been attempted. Hybrid quarantine plans tailored to the disease and enacted with sound medical advice are best suited to stop the spread of infectious disease.

The recommendations of this thesis can contribute to the creation of an effective plan for the PPD to enforce quarantine orders especially since the current IQP tasks the PPD with implementing quarantine enforcement orders with little guidance. Hopefully, this thesis will lead to appropriate changes to the existing IQP concerning the proper enforcement of quarantine orders. The collaboration of non-government and government agencies can be used to provide affected citizens with food, water, medication, and information while acting as a force multiplier to lessen the logistical strain on the PPD.

The lynchpin of the plan lies in the communication of pertinent medical information related to the communicable disease event. To provide timely and accurate information to the community, the release of this data should be made available through traditional and non-traditional media outlets (on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), as well as prominently displayed on the websites of the PPD, Philadelphia Fire Department, PDPH, and the City of Philadelphia. Providing citizens with information concerning an epidemic and quarantine plans can assist them in maintaining quarantine compliance and stopping the spread of disease.



[1] Division Digital Communications, “What Is the Difference between Isolation and Quarantine?” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, June 7, 2015,

[2] “Quarantine and Isolation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 23, 2019,

[3] “2019 Novel Coronavirus,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 12, 2020,

[4] Richard Schabas, “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome: Did Quarantine Help?,” The Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases & Medical Microbiology 15, no. 4 (2004): 204; Polly J. Price, “Quarantine and Liability in the Context of Ebola,” Public Health Reports 131, no. 3 (2016): 500–503; Xinhai Li et al., “Was Mandatory Quarantine Necessary in China for Controlling the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic?” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, no. 10 (October 2013): 4690–4700,

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