While people across the country continue to try and practice social distancing, it can still be difficult for some to get with the program.
Gov. Ralph Northam banned gatherings of 10 or more people in public spaces including general businesses and restaurants. He gave law enforcement the authority to enforce the ban and those who violate the executive order can get a Class 1 or Class 3 misdemeanor.
Enforcing the ban
Charles Ericsson, spokesman for the Williamsburg Police Department, said when handling reports about large gatherings, officers first try voluntary compliance, encouraging residents to break up the gathering on their own.
Should the department receive complaints, they educate residents about the ban and give them suggestions on how to comply.
The James City County Police Department does the same, said Deputy Chief Stephen Rubino, and so does the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office said Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs.
Diggs added that most of the businesses and residents are complying with the governor’s order so far.
“Our primary role and our emphasis is continuing our business as we do on a daily basis,” Diggs said. “We don’t expect to have any need to enforce it because people are compiling voluntarily.”
Based on the governor’s first executive order, both Diggs and Ericsson noted they would refer those who do not comply to the health department. Based on the second order, Diggs said he would refer them to the health department, state police or other departments who have jurisdiction.
Rubino said if the people involved do not comply, the officers will issue a summons or fill out the appropriate forms and contact parents and guardians, in the case of juveniles. Should the individuals continue to violate the order, then they would be arrested.
Ericsson said in an email that for the most part, the community has been very respectful of the social distancing restrictions, which is important so the “community is able to flatten the curve and to reduce the strain on our medical providers and public safety.”
When officers are responding to calls to break up large groups, they are potentially exposing themselves to the coronavirus so local law enforcement has implemented protective measures to keep them safe.
In Williamsburg, the police department has adjusted its work schedules to reduce contact between employees and take officers’ temperatures when they arrive at work and then again halfway through their shifts.
Other changes include wiping down vehicles between shifts, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs and setting up several sanitation stations throughout the building.
During service calls, deputies with YPSO and Williamsburg Police officers try to handle as much as possible over the phone. If an in-person response is required, dispatchers will ask basic screening questions to determine if a person might be a risk of exposure.
YPSO is handling calls over the phone, such as credit card incidents, but in cases where deputies need to respond in person, such as domestic violence, they practice social distancing, Diggs said.
James City County and Williamsburg are also practicing the same measures.
In all three departments, if deputies and officers have to respond in-person and the person has informed law enforcement they have the coronavirus, are sick or have other symptoms, officers are provided with personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, masks and gloves, that both the individuals and officers can use.
“It is our goal to keep our officers safe, as well as the citizens we come in contact with,” Ericsson said.
Law enforcement is also working to protect residents against price gouging practices, such as selling an 8 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer for $40.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Mark Herring, along with 30 other state attorneys general, sent a letter asking online marketplaces such as Amazon to monitor sellers who might be price gouging.
So far, JCCPD, WPD and YPSO have not received any reports of price gouging in the area and Diggs said the attorney general’s office was in charge of those reports.
“We would collect evidence that may be useful and turn that over the proper authorities,” he added.
Rubino encouraged residents to report any evidence of price gouging to the Consumer Protection Price Gouging Hotline at 800-552-9963.
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