Departments continue day-to-day operations, with added safety precautions
Law enforcement departments in Minnesota and Wisconsin are happy with the response to shelter in place orders issued due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most people are taking the orders seriously and not gathering in large groups, according to Polk County Sheriff Brent Waak.
“I think the community here has done an outstanding job of self regulating,” he said. “They closed our bars and restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day and we had virtually no complaints.”
The more overarching ‘safer at home’ order followed closely behind the decision to close all bars and restaurants in Wisconsin and went into affect March 25. Misinformation about the enforcement of this order is a concern for Waak, who said he has received questions about the state requiring ‘travel papers’ for people who wish to leave their homes.
“(The order) specifically says you don’t need documentation to be traveling around,” he said.
Waak continued to say the Sheriff’s department is not enforcing any travel restrictions, but are simply continuing the work they do on a regular basis.
“We’re going about business as usual,” he said. “If we stop a car it’s because we’ve developed legal grounds to stop it.”
Minnesota enacted a shelter in place law shortly after Wisconsin. The state’s order was issued March 25 and went into affect March 27. Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry said his department is handling the situation in much the same way as Wisconsin. They are receiving regular calls from citizens concerned about large groups congregating, but are focusing on educating the groups they come into contact with, rather than issuing citations.
“We’ve had those calls. Whether it’s businesses or it’s people that are in large groups out in public,” he said. “What we’re doing is attempting to make contact with those that are in violation and mediate it through education, simply talking to them about the Governor’s orders.”
Starry said so far this tactic has been very effective.
“So far that has mediated the majority of these calls,” he said. “If that does not work certainly there is an enforcement piece (of the order) and a citation that could be issued, but we’ve not had that and certainly hope that our citizens will simply comply as we go forward.”
Starry said he’s very impressed with the response from Washington County residents, especially considering how fast the situation has been changing.
“It’s been a short period of time and everyone’s trying to adjust to that new normal,” he said. “So far the public has been great.”
Washington County has 51 positive cases of COVID-19 as of April 3, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Enforcing the law in an area with active coronavirus cases is difficult, especially when that means being in close proximity to people and entering their homes. But Starry said they have to maintain their regular presence in the community.
“Sometimes we don’t have a choice, we have to go in,” he said. “That’s the nature of our job.”
Washington County deputies have been issued personal protective equipment (PPE) but have also been given sanitizer and cleaning supplies to keep themselves and their workspace clean.
“We want to make sure our employees, their families and those that we are entrusted to care for are taken care of,” he said.
Across the river in Wisconsin, local police departments are implementing much of the same safety procedures. Osceola Police Chief Ron Pedrys said his officers are doing their best to be cognizant of the situation and maintain social distancing.
“We do social distancing whenever possible,” he said. “In some instances where you have to arrest somebody or there’s a physical or violent encounter obviously that kind of goes out the window.”
Pedrys said it’s important that people know his department is still enforcing traffic as they normally would.
“With a lot of people out and about everyday we want to make sure the motoring and pedestrian traffic is safe,” he said.
Both the Polk county and Washington County jail facilities have also heightened safety protocols and improved cleaning efforts in order to keep employees as well as inmates safe during the outbreak. Any resident booked into the Washington County jail will enter a quarantine area and will remain there for two weeks, unless their court ordered stay is shorter than that amount of time.
“One thing that we don’t want to have happen is this (outbreak) getting into our jail,” Starry said. “So we’re trying to limit as much of the outside coming into our jail as we can.”
As Starry and the rest of the law enforcement in maintaining the law.
“I want to be clear, we are still enforcing the law,” Starry said. “Certainly those that need to be arrested throughout the county, the police agencies and sheriff’s office are arresting those individuals.”