Lake County public officials, law enforcement and local organizations are grappling with the need to enforce shifting public health orders issued by the state and adhered to by the county, though they are unsure how enforcement can be carried out effectively.
On May 11, Lake County public officials hosted a meeting with Bruce Brown, district attorney for the fifth judicial district, to consider enforcing public health orders and discuss the challenges they have faced in doing so thus far.
Enforcement of public health orders has not been a main focus for Lake County law enforcement during the pandemic, but as tourist traffic increases and locals begin to socialize more, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) is considering more aggressive enforcement of orders, Sheriff Amy Reyes said.
“It seems to me that right now is the calm before the storm,” Brown said in reference to the increased traffic the county sees during Memorial Day weekend.
Reyes said that it has already started. Since the weather started warming, LCSO deputies have responded to several house parties and broken up campsites with more than 10 people present.
In the sheriff’s experience with such calls, Reyes said residents are unclear about regulations and tired of being told what to do. It has resulted in push-back against enforcement.
“What we’re finding now is people, understandably, they’re a lot more aggressive,” Reyes said. “They’re tired of being told what to do.”
While Lake County Public Health Agency and law enforcement are not planning to cite people for not wearing face coverings or keeping at least six feet apart, Reyes said the need to develop some kind of enforcement protocol is increasing.
Lake County Recreation Department employees have had similar experiences in asking people to abide by posted rules and closures at outdoor facilities, the department’s director Amber Magee said.
As the need for enforcement grows, LCSO, the Leadville Police Department and other public entities are not sure what methods to use for an unprecedented situation.
“Real traditional enforcement for citing people and bringing them in to court is not going to prove successful,” Brown said as the meeting topic shifted to methods of enforcement.
The district attorney believes the delayed nature of traditional penal methods, where a person is cited and continues through the court process for several weeks, will likely not be effective in stopping the offending behavior. Those cited are likely to continue to violate the public health orders they have been ticketed for breaking while the process plays out, Brown added.
For now, Reyes said the LCSO is continuing to focus on education and trying to clearly explain regulations to residents and tourists, but the county will soon need something more enforceable.
LCSO has seen a number of repeat offenders, and for some who claim enforcement of public health orders is a violation of their constitutional rights, education is not a sufficient method, she said.
Education often turns into a debate that does not work out in the favor of law enforcement, Leadville Chief of Police Saige Bertolas said. As a result officers need to have measures they can take to punish offenders.
“I think as a county we’ve got to decide, okay, what are we willing to enforce, what are we not, and then have very clear repercussions for not following that,” Reyes explained.
Though no concrete decisions came from the meeting, positive reinforcement campaigns and small fines were suggested.
In the May 11 public meeting, Brown asked Reyes if she was able to generalize who was violating the public health orders, but Reyes said there was disregard among a wide age range.
“If there’s going to be restrictions in place, we need to figure out how that’s going to be done other than what’s already on the books,” the sheriff said.