Yesterday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new stay-at-home order that will be triggered whenever a region in the state has only 15% of ICU beds still available. In addition to ordering people to stay home, the plan also shutters some businesses and limits others to 20% capacity. Restaurants are also limited to carry-out only. But some sheriffs throughout the state say they won’t be involved in enforcing Newsom’s rules. Sheriff Alex Villanueva of Los Angeles said that’s the health department’s job, not his:
“I want to stay away from businesses that are trying to comply the best they can,” Villanueva said…
“They bent over backwards to modify their entire operation to conform to these current health orders, and then they have the rug yanked out from under them, that’s a disservice. I don’t want to make their lives any more miserable,” Villanueva told FOX 11’s Bill Melugin.
Sheriff Villanueva said his department will focus on preventing “super-spreader” events.
Other sheriffs seem to be echoing those sentiments. In Ventura County the sheriff’s office issued a statement which said in part, “Enforcement has always been an option for our staff to use with considerable discretion. However, our primary goal is to seek voluntary compliance whenever possible.“
San Bernardino County told Fox 11 it had no intention of sending out deputies to enforce the Governor’s orders. They also released a statement saying, “our goal is to educate and gain voluntary compliance regarding Public Health orders.”
Sheriffs in Orange County and Riverside County referred back to previous statements they issued last month. For instance, Orange County’s statement said, “Due to the need to have deputies available for emergency calls, deputies will not be responding to request for face-coverings or social gatherings-only enforcement.”
In Fresno County the Sheriff said something similar:
Sheriff Margaret Mims was quick to respond after the announcement, saying “We will not be enforcing any stay-at-home orders.”
She said her department doesn’t have the resources to enforce the order.
“If I showed anybody a list of what assignments and what cases our deputy sheriffs were working, they would be pretty hard-pressed to decide which one should stop what they’re doing to go enforce these COVID rules,” said Sheriff Mims.
And in Stanislaus County:
Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said he had not yet read the new order but, “there will be no change to our operations.”
He has repeatedly said he will not arrest people for violating the public health order and will enforce through education.
“We do not have the capacity to chase gatherings or (non)-mask wearers, not to mention the constitutional questions around that,” he said.
In general, many of these sheriffs are simply not going to drop their focus on crime to start enforcing these health orders. But there could be a risk in doing so. Gov. Newsom warned that counties that refuse to enforce his orders could lose COVID relief funds. “If you’re unwilling to enforce the rules, if you’re unwilling to adopt the protocols to support the mitigation and the reduction of the spread of this disease, we’re happy to redirect those dollars to counties that feel differently,” he said.
There’s some posturing happening on both sides here. But the reality is that even if every sheriff in the state was on board with enforcing Newsom’s order they couldn’t possibly stop non-compliance if that’s what people decide to do. Ultimately it’s up to Newsom to persuade people that the path he’s charting is the best one possible. And if he can’t do that then threatening people with law enforcement is probably not going to help.