Police in Utah aren’t issuing coronavirus-related citations, they’re educating people

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A "skate park closed" sign is ignored and set aside as people continue to use skateboards, dirt jumpers, BMX bikes and pro scooters at Fairmont Skatepark in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 3, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Local police departments in Utah are working to keep people safe from the coronavirus, but they’re trying to keep their enforcement of health orders low key.

“Our directive has been to educate the public when we see violations,” said Sgt. Clayton Swenson of the Sandy Police Department. “When we see people on playgrounds and things like that, we’re encouraging them to stay home and practice social distancing.

“But we’re not issuing citations or formal warnings.”

Orders in Salt Lake City and six Utah counties prohibit residents from congregating, along with other restrictions.

The Unified Police Department has issued no citations, “just warnings,” said Sgt. Melody Gray. A total of nine, as of midday on Monday, for “an array of things. Gatherings of a lot of people. Neighbors having parties. Food delivery violations — people leaning into cars to pick up food. That sort of thing.

“We just want people to stay safe.”

That’s the goal for all local departments. Salt Lake City Police have had to break up a few gatherings, “but we’re going into it assuming they haven’t heard the order,” said Sgt. Keith Horrocks. “We explain it to them, and people have been compliant.

“Our directive from the chief’s office has been not to issue citations, but to rely on education.”

Officers could, however, cite those who violate the orders with a class B misdemeanor.

“There is the possibility that if someone is completely obstinate and refuses to comply, we could do that,” Horrocks said. “But our hope is that it will never come to that. And, so far, it hasn’t.”

Summit County has issued a stay-at-home order similar to the one in Salt Lake County, and the sheriff’s deputies “had to do a lot of educating early on,” said Lt. Andrew Wright. “There were a few businesses where deputies had to stop by and tell them they couldn’t operate. And we’ve had to tell a few groups of people, ‘Hey, you can’t be together.’ But, for the most part, our community has really rallied behind this and supported it.”

The situation has been much the same in Park City.

“We’ve had to have conversations with a few people,” said Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter, “about the seriousness of the quarantine.”

That has included some residents who tested positive for the coronavirus and friends or family members who share homes with them.

“We’ve let them know that, no, they can’t be going out and they need to stay home,” Carpenter said. “And everyone we’ve talked to has agreed to follow the quarantine. We haven’t had to issue any citations.”

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