NORTH SUMMIT COUNTY — The state’s stay-at-home order makes it a criminal offense for Ohioans to be out for non-exempted reasons, but area police departments say they do not plan on being heavy handed about enforcement.
"We’re not policing this to the point of the Gestapo where we’re going door-to-door and stopping cars, but if we encounter someone, we’ll question them," said Twinsburg Assistant Police Chief Bob Gonsiewski.
Other police departments have expressed similar sentiments.
Munroe Falls Police Chief Jerry Hughes, who serves as president of the Summit County Chiefs of Police Association, said members, which includes Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry, have been in frequent contact with each other and Summit County Public Health. He said that for now, police departments are more interested in "educating the public before anything else."
"I know every police chief is first looking for voluntary compliance," he said. "If that doesn’t work, they’ll take alternate routes if someone is deliberately skirting the issue."
A violation of the order is a second-degree misdemeanor, but there are a number of reasons that people care authorized to be out and about, such as to go to a grocery or drug store, to get some exercise with a walk in a park or around a neighborhood or for allowed work-related trips, so long as social distancing is observed.
So police departments say that because of this and due to their policies to maintain as much distance as they can between officers and the public for mutual protection, they would like to avoid having to enforce the order too strenuously.
"We hope that our residents and businesses are staying safe and understand the need for the stay at home order that the Governor put in place," the Macedonia Police Department posted on its Facebok page. "In an effort to protect the residents and our Police Department, we will not ‘seek out’ violators in an attempt to issue citations or arrest, however we are out on patrol and will make contact with anyone we notice making any violations. We need to work together to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and remain safe while out on the road."
Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis said police are patrolling the city as usual and will respond to complaints of violators of the order, but police will not be stopping vehicles to catch violators.
"We are more about educating the public at this time than enforcing, so a warning will be given at first…Our hopes are that most people will read and abide by the orders from the governor and the department of health to help keep everyone safe," said Davis.
Hudson spokeswoman Jody Roberts expressed similar sentiments, saying police will not be bending over backwards to find violators, but will talk to people if they are found to be violating the order.
"We are not interested in making arrests or issuing citations unless people would continue to ignore warnings," said Roberts. "We are in this together and want to work together to help stop the spread of COVID-19 for the health and safety of our community."
Stow Police Capt. Bryan Snavely said the department is in touch with Summit County Public Health and "our expectation is that individuals and businesses will regulate themselves…"
"Criminal enforcement of this order is not something that we hope it comes down to," he said.
Tallmadge Police Chief Ron Williams said his officers are "not specifically stopping people" and if they do find someone in violation, they will give warnings for the time being, but Tallmadge has not had any issues so far with either individuals or businesses.
"People are substantially complying right now," said Williams.
Gonsiewski said that if officers see groups of people out in public or when they are out on a call, they will question individuals to determine if they are in violation of the order and give them warnings if necessary.
"We expect people to abide by the rules," said Gonsiewski.
Hughes said he is aware that people may think the order means police will randomly stop vehicles to catch violators, but "that’s not happening."
He reiterated that "all the main players are really staying in touch quite a bit," including police departments and Summit County Public Health.
"Speaking for Munroe Falls, we’re looking for voluntary compliance first and that’s just about what everyone’s been doing," he said.
Editor’s note: Reporter Phil Keren contributed to this story.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP