In some California counties, Sheriffs won't be enforcing Governor's shutdown orders

This story is reminiscent of the recent report that various sheriff’s departments around New York State are refusing to enforce Andrew Cuomo’s Thanksgiving lockdown rules, leaving him furious. But today’s tale comes to us from the other side of the country. In Orange County, California, Sheriff Don Barnes responded to a new, limited stay-at-home order from Governor Gavin Newsom. The short version of his response boils down to the reality of limited personnel and resources, leading him to say that he has no plans to deploy deputies to enforce the order. Will Newsom wind up being “furious” as well? (CBS Los Angeles)

In a statement, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said, “Earlier today, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department became aware of a limited Stay at Home Order that Governor Newsom’s office ordered to go into effect on Saturday, November 21 at 10 p.m. Throughout the pandemic, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has taken an education-first approach with regard to the public health orders.”

Barnes continued, “We are currently assessing the action by the Governor. At this time, due to the need to have deputies available from emergency calls for service, deputies will not be responding to requests for face-coverings or social-gatherings enforcement.”

The latest order isn’t a blanket shut down, but more of a curfew. Newsom’s order forbids “gatherings, movement and non-essential work” from 10 pm until 5 am. And it only applies to counties that fall into the “purple” tier for new COVID cases and hospitalizations. Orange County currently falls into that tier.

Newsom now finds himself in the same situation as Governor Cuomo does in New York. You can issue executive orders all you like, but what happens if you can’t find anyone to enforce those orders? If the County Sheriff’s Department refuses and the local or municipal police departments don’t want to take on the responsibility, his options are clearly limited. He could try sending in the state troopers, I suppose, but they aren’t exactly overflowing with manpower right now either. Beyond that, what can the Governor do? Send in the National Guard to make sure someone isn’t staying at the restaurant until 10:30 pm for an extra cocktail?

Business owners in Orange County are more upset over these orders than the rank-and-file citizens. This is particularly true of employers in the bar and restaurant trades. CBS interviewed a few of them who don’t see a way to come back if they have to shut down again or severely limit their hours. If Newsom wants everyone to be home by 10 pm, that means that the restaurants who have managed to reopen will have to curtail table service an hour or more before that. And that’s the height of the dinner hour.

Lest you think this standoff in Orange County is an isolated incident, it’s not. Fresno Sheriff Margaret Mims had an even more blunt message for Newsom. She held a press conference and declared that her deputies weren’t going to be “making criminals out of ordinary citizens.” (Fox News)

“We’ve got a lot of things to do, including taking guns away from gang members, stopping narcotic trafficking, and saving children from internet predators,” Mims said during a video briefing Thursday afternoon.

“We’re not gonna make criminals of normally law-abiding citizens.”

Mims went on to say that her deputies would not be setting up checkpoints or pulling drivers over to ask why they are out and about after the curfew. In other words, she’s not going to be enforcing it at all.

Now it’s the Governor’s move. What’s not clear is whether he has any cards left to play.