In response to Inslee’s stay-at-home order, Clark County law enforcement agencies say they’re aiming to educate rather than punish people for noncompliance. However, police departments have indicated that willful violations can result in a gross misdemeanor.
“Law enforcement’s primary role is to help educate people about how to comply with orders to stay at home. Our deputies are not being asked to detain, arrest, ticket or establish checkpoints for compliance,” the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
Rumors of strict policing or martial law are untrue, the sheriff’s office said.
Deputies will help teach people how to keep themselves, their families and the community safe, especially vulnerable populations.
“Our community has mostly shown they understand the severity of the situation and are doing all they can already to keep themselves, their families and neighbors safe and healthy,” the sheriff’s office said.
When deputies encounter people not complying with the stay-at-home order, they’ll simply remind them of the recommendations and restrictions when appropriate.
The sheriff’s office noted that it and other law enforcement agencies do not want to make arrests or jail anyone for violations.
Additionally, deputies are aware of people carrying out essential services, such as security, utilities and health care, among others. The agency said rumors of individuals or businesses needing “passes” or “licenses” to conduct essential services are untrue.
Clark County’s smaller police agencies are taking similar approaches to the stay-at-home order.
Many police departments have not increased the number of officers on patrol. They also don’t plan to proactively enforce the order, relying instead on complaints and observations made during patrols.
“If in the course of our regular patrols we see people out in congregations, we’ll remind them of the order and about physical separation,” Ridgefield Police Chief John Brooks said. “My personal experience is most of the community have a good understanding of both what to do and the need for it.”
The Vancouver Police Department said that its officers have started proactive patrols of neighborhoods to prevent an increase of package thefts and property crimes.
They will be taking additional measures to ensure that residents are in compliance with this new order.
“(Officers) will attempt to educate violators of the order first, from a distance, and in accordance with the 6-foot social distancing guidelines,” the police department said. Efforts will be made to ensure voluntary compliance with the governor’s order.
However, Vancouver police noted that it is a gross misdemeanor to willfully violate any provision of the order. A criminal citation would be a last-resort measure.
Officers have also ramped up patrolling business districts, especially around businesses that have temporarily closed due to the statewide closures, the police department said.
“If businesses are not in compliance, they will also be provided a warning and opportunity to get in compliance. Officers will be documenting interactions with businesses that are out of compliance and referring these reports to the appropriate business licensing agencies for follow up,” the police department said.
Some departments have reached out to business owners about the new restrictions and how to access more information. Others have printed copies of the order for officers to hand out to the public for educational purposes.
But if an individual or business refuses to comply after conversations with officers, they are subject to a citation, including criminal penalties, Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn said.
“Our goal is to work towards voluntary compliance,” she said.
Smooth so far
Other than occasional reports of small groups of people gathering together, largely young people, police have said that the restrictions have run smoothly so far.
“We are expecting a good response from our community and believe we will be able to achieve voluntary compliance,” Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey said. “All officers have the discretion to enforce any law. An officer would take an enforcement action when and if, in that officer’s opinion, it was the appropriate action to take.”
Vancouver police warned that it’s imperative for community members to refrain from calling 911 and overloading the emergency system with nonemergency calls for service. If there is a safety issue related to the stay-at-home order, people should call 311.
Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, the countywide 911 center, urged residents in a Facebook post to not call about instances of noncompliance or social-distancing violations.
“We are working on a clearinghouse of those concerns. However, we need to keep emergency lines clear for those that need them,” the post says.