Law enforcement hopes people do what's right
March 22, 2020
Don’t gather with 10 or more people. Don’t go to the gym. Don’t go to the movies. Don’t eat inside a restaurant.
It’s been a lot to keep up with during the COVID-19 pandemic, with state guidelines seemingly changing as soon as everybody put the infrastructure in to obey the previous guidelines.
Thursday’s public health order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham shuttered numerous varieties of businesses — indoor shopping malls, recreational facilities, health clubs, resort spas, athletic facilities, theaters (including movie theaters) and flea markets. Restaurants are allowed to stay open, but are limited to take-out and delivery. Hotels and motels are required to limit lodging to half their capacity.
Other businesses may remain open, but should, “per the order, limit operations to the greatest extent possible and minimize employee contact.”
And if a business doesn’t comply? According to a release Thursday from the governor’s office: “The state will ramp up surveillance of businesses to ensure compliance. Violators of the public health order could lose their licenses to operate, face fines or even jail time.
“New Mexicans wishing to report a violation of the order may call their local non-emergency number and make a report. The state police, the Environment Department, the state Homeland Security Department and the state Regulation and Licensing Division are all empowered through the order to enforce these restrictions.”
Questions to the governor’s office were not returned, but responses from law enforcement indicate most places are doing their part — which is a good thing for them, as law enforcement has neither the time nor the energy to check that every gym is locked and patrol every laundromat and auto parts store to make sure they’re doing head counts.
“We really hope everyone does what is right for the community as a whole,” Clovis Police Capt. Roman Romero said in a Friday email. “Our public hasn’t dealt with something like this before which makes this difficult.”
Lt. Mark Soriano, a public information officer for the New Mexico State Police, said the NMSP has not received pushback on checks with hundreds of state businesses, and it anticipates the same going forward.
“Chief (Tim) Johnson has instructed officers to first educate non-compliant establishments about the requirements of the order and allow them a reasonable opportunity to conform,” Soriano said. “Although we do not anticipate pushback from businesses, state law addressing these rare situations does grant us the authority to take administrative or criminal action when necessary. We will deal with those instances, if any, on a case by case basis. Additionally, we are in regular contact with our counterparts at the Departments of Health, Regulation and Licensing, Environment and others who play an active role in getting the governor’s message out and ensuring everyone’s health and safety concerns are being heard and addressed.”
The CPD has no knowledge of criminal statutes associated with the order, and Romero doesn’t envision arrests on an initial report.
“The Clovis Police Department will respond to a call for service about larger than suggested gatherings,” Romero said. “The officer who is sent has been tasked with asking the person in charge of the area or business to voluntarily comply with guidelines that have been established to minimize exposure to COVID-19. If the business owner or responsible party complies, great. If they don’t, we’ll just get good contact information for them.”
The video, the call log and the party’s contact information, Romero said, will go to the state department of public safety, which will make its own determination on penalties.
Curry County Sheriff Wesley Waller said his office has not had any calls on violations so far.
Romero, said this is not the country’s first difficult time but instead “the first test of the fortitude of our current generations” and the latest in a line of defining moments.
“Our grandparents and great-grandparents faced the Great Depression and World War II,” Romero said. “They didn’t have what they needed because there was nothing to have, not because of hoarding and fear. There was rationing during a war where the United States was the Arsenal of Democracy, but it was done as an effort to conquer a great evil.
“We’ll get through this, hopefully the same way the previous generations did, by working together. We must and we will.”