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How are St. Louis area police officers enforcing stay-at-home orders?

Police have been asking people to comply with the orders, but have not been making arrests. Yet.

ST. LOUIS — Local governments everywhere have ordered us to stay at home for the greater good as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread.

So, who enforces such orders?

For the most part, police officers locally said they are not actively seeking out those who might want to go for a walk or even gather for an event of some sort.

Instead, governments are relying on citizens to report violations, and health department officials are making decisions on whether offenders should be fined or ticketed.

Internationally, stay-at-home orders have accelerated to include police arresting people.

RELATED: What is a stay-at-home order?

In London, police are breaking up public gatherings and issuing fines. Italy was put on lock down March 9, and those who broke the rules were threatened with fines and six months' prison time.

CNN reported that hundreds of thousands of Italians have been given police citations for flouting the ban, and the military has been called in to help enforce the rules as deaths spiked and hospitals buckled under the strain. 

In St. Louis, the director of public health wrote the stay-at-home order. If police officers encounter anyone violating it, they can ask people to abide by it. If someone refuses, officers are to call the Department of Public Health and ask how the director would like to handle the situation, said Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards.

The heath department director can authorize officers to issue citations, he said.

A violation of the order is a Class A misdemeanor, which includes a fine of up to $2,000. In extreme cases, officers can seek arrest warrants from a judge, Edwards said.

“There won’t be any arbitrary stops, we’re not interested in that. We’re interested in people following the law,” Edwards said. “Policing as usual exists.

“But if there’s a group of people hanging out, we do want this order enforced. Our officers will show up and try to get people to be compliant, and those who insist on not being compliant, the next step is not immediate arrest, but a notice and request for the department of health to get involved.

Edwards cited a church service as an example.

“If we have a church that insists on having church, I expect that if officers make that observation, the department of health would get involved.”

RELATED: What you need to know about the stay-at-home order issued by St. Louis city and county officials

In St. Louis County, officers are “encouraging people to comply with the stay-at-home order when we receive calls for service,” according to police spokeswoman Officer Tracy Panus.

County police Sgt. Benjamin Granda said the department will not be arresting people for violating the order “at this time.”

“We are optimistic the public will make good decisions regarding the enforcement of executive orders,” he wrote. “If the public exercises sound judgement, they have the power to save lives.”

If someone sees a business not following the executive order, Granda said it can be reported to the counselor’s office at countycounselorcovid19@stlouisco.com.

In Jefferson County, the sheriff is elected and the health department does not report to the county executive.

Sheriff David Marshak said he sees the stay-at-home orders as “social contracts.”

“I strongly recommend compliance, but these are social contracts that will not be met with outright enforcement,” he said. “This is still America, and we’re going to protect your constitutional rights in Jefferson County.

“We’re not going to pull people over and start checking papers to investigate whether you have approved documents to be out. A deputy can inform people about the order, but they won’t force compliance.”

RELATED: Jefferson County issues stay-at-home order due to coronavirus concerns

Jefferson County authorities are dealing with violations on a municipal level. For example, someone reported that a wedding happened recently in the county. The municipal court issued a citation to the new, happy couple, Marshak said.

“That’s not enforcement from us,” he said. “We have to be realistic with how our manpower is used.

“We’re still getting calls for domestics, fights, etc., and we don’t have the resources to respond to these types of calls. We really hope everyone takes the advice of what’s out there now and stays home.”

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