Chris Sheldon and Avalon Zoppo
Police in a Monmouth County town will not respond to every COVID-19 complaint about the new indoor gatherings limits, particularly during Thanksgiving, and will only concentrate on major violations, the department’s chief announced.
Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick sent a memo to personnel on Thursday ahead of the holiday season telling his department that officers will no longer respond to complaints about gathering limits, social distancing or face mask compliance, unless it is “an egregious violation such as a packed house party.”
He said the department will rely on the community to be responsible in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
”By no means is this a defiance to the Governor’s orders as I do believe we all have to do our part to end this pandemic, ” Kudrick wrote in the memo. “However, we the police will not be used to carry out orders I feel are detrimental to our relationship with our community. Or, will put officers in a no-win predicament such as being called for a social distancing or mask complaint. Although justified in our enforcement, the perception will be the opposite and majority support will be lacking.”
With COVID-19 numbers surging, Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday signed an executive order tightening limits on the number of people allowed at both indoor and outdoor gatherings in New Jersey in an effort to help control the spread of the coronavirus.
Indoor gatherings are now limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings were capped at 150 people, with several exceptions.
Kudrick said his directive will not restrict an officer from addressing any major complaints, but that it will give dispatchers “broad discretion” on assigning a response to a COVID-19-related complaint.
”Effective immediately, we will not accept nor respond to any report of a facial covering/mask, social distancing or indoor/outdoor gathering complaint,” Kudrick said. “The only time we will consider a response would be for an egregious violation such as a packed house party. If these restrictions are exempt for political purposes, then family and friends should be permitted to gather with equal consideration.”
Howell Police Lt. John Yurgel said the department has had experience shutting down large gatherings.
Over the summer, Howell police cleared 300 people from a house party that was promoted through social media.
And around Halloween, he said, there was a large gathering of minors that led to a number of coronavirus cases in the township that prompted a school to switch to remote learning.
But, law enforcement in Howell won’t “actively go out” and search for large gatherings on Thanksgiving or during the holidays, Yurgel said, leaving it up to the public to report those flouting the rules.
Officers will decide how to handle calls on a case-by-case basis, Yurgel said.
”If it’s something egregious where they think there’s 50 to 100 people, that’s obviously a bigger problem,” he said. “But I don’t know the legalities of going into people’s houses to take a head count.”
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