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Some police agencies won’t enforce new stay-at-home coronavirus orders, others will as a ‘last resort’

Law enforcement officials throughout Southern California said they do not plan on arresting people or issuing fines to those who do not comply with the state’s new late evening curfews, which were ordered to begin Saturday amid a surge of coronavirus infections.

Instead of incarceration or fines, the region’s largest law enforcement agencies said they plan to work with residents in educating them on the public health rules and are asking for people to voluntarily comply.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has taken an education-first approach with regard to public health orders,” Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement posted shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new public health order.

The order applies to 90% of the state’s population, covering all counties under the state’s purple tier of restrictions, which includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

Under the order, which begins Saturday, most non-essential work, movement and gatherings of people are to stop between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

However, to keep resources available for other emergency calls, Barnes said, his department will not send its deputies to enforce these restrictions, particularly if the call is solely about a lack of face covering or social gatherings.

Riverside County sheriff’s deputies also will not respond to calls for service in calls about masks and social distancing, said Sheriff Chad Bianco, “to ensure constitutional rights are not violated and to limit potential negative interactions and exposure to our deputies.” Bianco also urged its residents to comply with Gov. Newsom’s orders.

Bianco’s department was slapped with an $18,000 fine earlier this week for violating the state’s COVID-19 regulations at one of its jails in French Valley, which is where a sheriff’s deputy contracted the coronavirus and eventually died. The department is appealing the fine.

In Los Angeles County, where on Thursday health officials announced a record-breaking 5,031 new COVID-19 infections, the highest daily number of the pandemic so far, law enforcement echoed similar statements of voluntary compliance.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said his department is also focused on educating residents and asking for voluntary compliance. He added that deputies could be asked to enforce the new rules as “an extreme last resort.”

Though the department plans to respond to complaints about social gatherings that are out of compliance, its patrol deputies will not pull people over or cite people for simply driving or walking amid the curfew hours.

An LAPD spokesman said he expects officers to respond to COVID-19-related calls with a similarly selective approach.

When stay-at-home orders were first issued in March, Los Angeles city officials encouraged people to comply and educate one another on the new rules, reserving enforcement to more serious situations.

Since then, the city has been among the most heavy-handed enforcers of public health rules in the region, utilizing municipal codes, cracking down on non-essential businesses that continued to operate or residents hosting large parties.

LAPD wearing masks due to the Coronavirus Pandemic walks past others wearing masks at Venice Beach in Venice on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

In August, Mayor Eric Garcetti authorized the Department of Water and Power to shut off utilities to homes that continually flouted city orders banning large gatherings.

The directive came amid news of a large party hosted at a home along Mulholland Drive that ended with a fatal shooting, a series of large parties thrown by TikTok stars Bryce Hall and Blake Gray from their Hollywood Hills mansion, and a party at a bar in Hollywood, called the Sassafras Saloon that appeared to have been held in honor of law enforcement officials in which Sheriff’s deputies were possible present.

Hall and Gray face charges that carry hundreds of dollars in fines.

The city of Costa Mesa in Orange County made headlines in July when its city council said it was ready to enforce its mask or face covering mandate in some public places with threat of a ticket or possible fine.

Police have since arrested one individual for violating the order, a man who entered a grocery store on Newport Boulevard without a mask and refused to cooperate with store staff and later, law enforcement, said Roxi Ryad, spokeswoman for Costa Mesa police.

The city is also directing its officers to educate first, hoping that residents will comply with the orders, Ryad said.

A spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said officials are still reviewing the recent order and have yet to take a position on how the department will enforce it.

The order was announced Thursday as coronavirus cases surged statewide. The state reported more new infections in the past week than during any other seven-day period, and hospitalizations and deaths are increasing too.

Earlier this week, counties that had been previously in the less restrictive red tier, such as Orange County, were bumped into the purple tier, once again shutting down indoor operations for restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and houses of worship.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom wrote in a news release. “It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before and we must do it again.”

Source: Orange County Register

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