Hundreds of tips, many fake, flood city’s business COVID-19 compliance portal

The city-parish has received only a handful of phone calls so far on its new tip line intended to alert authorities to businesses that may be violating, whether intentionally or otherwise, the state’s phase two guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic.

But several hundred online tips came in over the weekend, many of which appear to be intentionally fake reports from trolls hoping to disrupt the system, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul says.

BRPD officials are combing through the online reports, trying to determine which complaints are fraudulent and which came from residents legitimately concerned about bars, restaurants and other businesses that appeared not to be following public health guidelines.

City-parish spokesman Mark Armstrong says while it is disappointing some online tips have been fake, he says it is not surprising and will not deter the city-parish from continuing to encourage people to report businesses that are not following guidelines that promote public health.

“This resource will be available for the time being,” he says. “I am sure we will weed through any of the ridiculous stuff that is out there and that it will die off after a while.”

Armstrong says it’s also unclear if the five calls that have come in so far were to report employees not wearing masks, which is a violation of the state’s phase two guidelines, customers not wearing masks, which is not a violation, or something else.

Of the five calls, three were about restaurants, one was about a bar and one was about a non-food retail establishment.

Broome announced the anonymous tip line, which receives information by phone or through a web portal, on June 26 in an effort to help limit the spread of COVID-19, which is continuing to rise again in the parish and elsewhere.

Tipsters are encouraged to report businesses that are not using social distancing, not providing hand sanitizing stations for patrons and employees, or not complying with mask and glove guidelines.

The idea is not to bust businesses that aren’t complying, says Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul, but to help the BRPD make those establishments aware of the regulations and guidance.

“The complaints are forwarded to a unit that will make contact with the business, notify them of the complaint and politely discuss being a responsible business and ask for compliance with the governor’s order,” Paul says. 

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