Policing During a Pandemic (Part 4): Social Distancing
In Policing During a Pandemic (Part 4), CCX News asked officers in the northwest suburbs if they are breaking up large groups in an effort to encourage social distancing.
All the local police departments we spoke with said they are not being hyper-vigilant when it comes to enforcing social distancing and crowd limits. They are more interested in educating the public.
“We committed early on we are not going to be the strong arm going out in our communities trying to enforce this social distancing when it really is for their own protection,” said Brooklyn Park Deputy Police Chief Mark Bruley. “It is a good idea, but it’s really challenging in certain parts of our community when the youth have nothing else to do. They are going out on walks. During those walks I know that we are seeing them closer than six feet. We’re just taking the opportunity to stop and educate them and encourage them to follow. We are just not going to take a strong approach right now.”
In Crystal the approach is similar to Brooklyn Park.
“The stay-at-home order that the governor put out is intended as a guide and the hope is that people will voluntarily do that,” said Crystal Deputy Police Chief Brian Hubbard. “Our officers are not out aggressively enforcing that law. We have really taken it very much as an educational piece. If we see a group gathered we’re not interjecting with that group.”
Some residents may be okay with people gathering. But others worry about the rapid spread of COVID-19 and seeing groups playing or socializing makes them uneasy.
“We do get calls from citizens who are concerned who see that,” Hubbard said. “Then we do feel an obligation to go and talk with folks. In that case we’re educating them. Our purpose is to say, ‘hey, here’s why this rule is in place, we really want to encourage you to abide by it.’ We are doing everything we can really to avoid enforcement action on that.”
Officers Understand People Need to Get Outside
After being cooped up for the winter, residents in the northwest suburbs embrace the mild days. They bike, hike, jog, walk and play sports. But with COVID-19 restrictions, people have been stuck inside more than normal and are trying to deal with monotonous days.
Osseo Police Chief Shane Mikkelson is aware of that. It’s why he is taking a practical approach to policing.
“We view it as if there is no property destruction, no other criminal activity and a group of kids wants to go out and have some fun,” Mikkelson said. “I have an issue with individual rights (they should be able) to go out and be outside and see friends. Again we’re going to ask for voluntary compliance. Maybe not playing contact sports. ‘Hey could you guys just kind of stay apart as best you can?'”
Mikkelson has four kids of his own. He believes children need to stay active.
“They need their time to get outside and do what they can to run off some of that energy,” Mikkelson said. “People have rights in this country. They have a right to be outside and they have a right to go up to Holiday and get a coffee or something. It may not be an essential deal, but by the same token they have to live.”