Although leaving one’s home for a non-essential reason is now illegal in Michigan as COVID-19 continues to spread, area police say it will be tough to enforce and they are asking people to be responsible and voluntarily adhere to the “shelter at home” mandate.
On Monday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-21 that requires all state residents to suspend unnecessary activities and, unless going out is necessary to sustain or protect life, residents are ordered to stay at home until April 13.
“We’re hoping the majority will follow the order. It’s going to be awfully hard to enforce,” said Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey.
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said law enforcement can issue a 93-misdemeanor citation for violating the order.
Further, police have the authority to order people to comply with the mandate, and refusal to do so may become a two-year felony for resisting and obstructing a law enforcement officer.
Bailey said police would prefer that people voluntarily comply with the executive order, but his deputies will take action if needed to protect the health and safety of the community.
“We do have the right to stop people who are out driving, and we might ask them to prove they need to go somewhere,” the sheriff said.
He acknowledged, however, that trying to determine the reason a person is out driving will be difficult because there are a number of allowable reasons to be out, such as going to a grocery story.
“We’ll just have to talk to them, and determine what the truth is,” Bailey said.
Coloma Township Police Chief Wes Smigielski agreed the mandate will be tough to enforce.
“We are hoping people will police themselves on this. We don’t have the manpower to stop every car that’s out there,” he said. “Overall we have a great area here, and I don’t see people being a detriment (to health and safety) on purpose,” he said.
People are allowed, even encouraged, to go outside for exercise, to walk their dogs or even just to get fresh air, but Smigielski said social distancing should be practiced and large crowds will not be allowed to gather, even outside.
Benton Harbor Public Safety Director Dan McGinnis said Monday his department was still digesting the governor’s order and developing a plan to adhere to it. But he has reservations.
“In my opinion, we’re almost two seconds away from martial law,” McGinnis said. “This is all so fast-moving. I see it as almost an infringement of people’s rights.”
He said his officers will not ticket people for being out.
“We’re not going to start pulling over every car and asking people where they’re going,” he said.
Regarding potential crowds of people gathering in close proximity outdoors, McGinnis said, “We’ll remind them that they’re too close, and ask them to distance themselves.”
Bridgman Police Chief Daniel Unruh said his department is operating as usual.
“If or when we receive a report of people gathering, businesses opening or operating or motorists driving in violation of the governor’s order, we will look into it and take appropriate action,” he said. “We will continue to enforce traffic and criminal laws as we always have and will exercise discretion if we find anyone violating the governor’s order.”
St. Joseph Public Safety Director Steve Neubecker said the order will be hard to enforce.
“It will be extremely difficult to determine who is a critical infrastructure worker and who is not. You may still leave your residence to go to the grocery store, pick up food, go to the pharmacy, fill your car with gas, or take your animals to the veterinarian,” Neubecker said. “This will be difficult, but we will do the best we can to enforce it.”
Bailey commended Berrien County Health Department and Spectrum Health Lakeland officials for gathering information and communicating and working with the police to get information out to the public.