Law enforcement personnel are responsible for enforcing mandatory business restrictions in Summit County
Starting 5 p.m. Sunday evening, Summit County entered a new phase of its coronavirus response when it mandated restrictions on many of the area’s businesses, including the bars and restaurants that line Main Street and normally entice vacationers and locals throughout the late spring.
Mandatory closures, once the stuff of wartime or science fiction movies, have become the new normal in many parts of the United States.
It falls to the county’s law enforcement agencies to sort out how exactly to enforce the order, though, a task that has little precedent.
“In my lifetime, nothing like this has ever happened,” said Summit County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright.
Once the public health order was given by the local health officer, Wright explained, it was the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office and municipal law enforcement agencies to make sure it was followed. Both Rich Bullough, the county’s local health officer and Health Department director, and County Manager Tom Fisher have broad emergency powers in the wake of declarations made last week. It was on Bullough’s authority that the business restrictions were put in place.
Restaurants and bars are ordered closed except to provide take-out food service patrons must pick up outside the establishment.
Violating the order is a class B misdemeanor, carrying a possibility of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Subsequent violations are class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Each day of continuing operation not in accordance with the order constitutes a separate offense, according to the order.
Wright said it hasn’t come to that, with deputies doing the rounds and notifying businesses that are not in compliance.
In general, businesses have been “more than willing to comply,” Wright said.
The Sheriff’s Office has generally treated first offenses as a warning, while subsequent offenses might include a citation, Wright said. He added that the exact nature of who the deputies would cite and what they would be cited for are two questions that are still being worked through.
He added that he had not heard of any businesses being cited as of Tuesday afternoon.
“Our role as the Sheriff’s Office is really to support these orders and remind people that obeying these orders and showing a bit of respect and common courtesy will help in the long run,” Wright said.
At a special Summit County Council meeting Monday, councilors stressed the importance of enforcing the order, especially in the early going.
“I believe this is critical to health and safety and we have to enforce this order to the extent that we’re fully able to enforce the order,” said Councilor Roger Armstrong. “There will be temptations as days tick by for people to perhaps try to lessen the effect of this and circumvent it. …I do believe we need full enforcement.”
Armstrong also said that enforcement could include bringing public attention to businesses that violate the order as gatherings further the spread of COVID-19.
“I think if you’re making a conscious decision to (violate the order), I think you have to bear the legal responsibilities, but (also) the moral and social responsibilities of that,” he said.
Wright said the Sheriff’s Office has moved more resources to the coronavirus response and that deputies are visiting businesses to make sure they’re in compliance, but also to reassure the public that the community is still safe.
He added that Sheriff Justin Martinez has been communicating with Sheriff’s Office personnel frequently.
“The Sheriff instructed our deputies, No. 1, to be visible,” Wright said. “Community members and business partners, we’re here to help them, here to protect them, here to calm some of the anxiety and fear that people may have. And our role during this time obviously is to keep public order (and) keep the peace within our communities. And we’re seeing that so far.”
Wright said that it appears that the area isn’t as busy as normal, but the office is taking extra precautions in light of the pandemic.
Dispatchers are asking people whether they’re sick to inform a deputy before they respond to a call, Wright said, and deputies have been issued personal protective equipment.
He said the Sheriff’s Office is used to being on the front lines of dangerous situations and that taking risks the general public might not is part of the job.
“In law enforcement we’re very good at adapting to challenges,” Wright said.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that County Attorney Margaret Olson put the business restrictions in place alongside Health Director Rich Bullough.
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