While it can be awkward for police to enforce COVID-19 restrictions, it’s become another part of the job, and one that local law enforcement officials say is usually resolved without much fuss.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Frederick Police Department logged 164 complaints of violations of local and state executive orders, according to Lt. Jon Holler. And while Frederick County Sheriff’s Office did not have a specific number immediately available, Lt. Jeff Eyler said deputies have indeed responded to and encountered COVID-19 complaints throughout the pandemic.
In September, Eyler said the sheriff’s office received more than 25 calls to one large gathering of an estimated 2,500 people. In this case, deputies pursued charges against the host. But this situation wasn’t typical to what deputies face, he said. In most cases, deputies have been able to resolve COVID-19 issues by simply showing up and having a conversation.
“It is a very awkward position,” Eyler said Tuesday. “These days, the expectation of law enforcement can be very different than in years past.”
Holler said FPD started tracking COVID-19 complaints — some from residents, some from businesses — in late March. Complaints ranged from reports of large gatherings or people not wearing masks, he said. Like the sheriff’s office deputies, Holler said FPD officers have been able to resolve most incidents simply by having a conversation and educating the person in question.
Holler attributes the success of this method to the police department’s positive relationship with the community and how seriously people are taking the pandemic.
“We’ve had very few issues,” Holler said Monday. “Nearly all of them have been compliant.”
Like FPD, Eyler said FCSO found much success in asking people to cooperate. Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has gone as far to visit local businesses in person, when asked, to check out their COVID-19 precautions prior to an event being held, he said.
FPD’s log of COVID-19 complaints peaked in April and has since come down. Anecdotally, Eyler said FCSO has also seen a decrease lately.
FPD recorded 15 complaints in March, 84 in April, 35 in May, seven in June, four in July, nine in August, seven in September and three in October, according to Holler.
Holler said when police respond to COVID-19 complaints, they don’t go in with the mindset of wanting to arrest someone. Police seek the “common ground” of enforcing the rules “without being too heavy-handed,” he said.
There have been very few times police responded to an executive order complaint and had to take some sort of enforcement action, such as applying for charges or making an arrest, according to Holler. He said none of the complaints resulted in officers making an on-scene arrest based solely on an executive order violation. Eyler was only aware of FCSO charging two people for violating an executive order issued by the governor.
In April, then-acting Chief Patrick Grossman said city police responded to about 60 complaints, when gatherings were limited to 10 people. That number increased before the month’s end.
Holler pointed out police are trying to keep the public safe by enforcing executive orders. Police don’t issue executive orders, he said, they’re just trying to enforce them.
Frederick Police Department can be reached at 301-600-2100, and Frederick County Sheriff’s Office at 301-600-1046. For emergencies, dial 9-1-1.