Gov. Phil Scott issued tough restrictions on multi-household gatherings a little over a week ago, but police say it’s unlikely that anyone in law enforcement will crack down on individuals and families violating the governor’s orders.
“It would be difficult to enforce,” Berlin Police Chief James Pontbriand told True North. “We would hope to have, if the need arose, to have a conversation with people on the importance of social distancing and staying at home. If we did feel that it was something where action needed to be taken further, it would probably be a conversation that we would have to have with the state’s attorney’s office about what that would look like, if anything.
Scott, in his executive order, clarified rules for household gatherings, including those that take place over Thanksgiving break. Individuals who live alone may gather with just one other household, but those who do not live alone may not gather with members of another household.
With just four Vermont deaths associated with COVID-19 in as many months and almost no young or healthy people dying from the virus, Pontbraid was asked how long it should be before life goes back to normal. “I don’t know, I hope it’s soon,” he replied.
Pontbriand explained that some violations of the governor’s orders have required police involvement in recent months.
“As with most of the governor’s orders, with businesses having to do certain things and take certain actions to be in compliance, we’ve had a number of complaints about compliance at various businesses not following the rules, and usually that involves us going down and having a conversation with those folks.”
Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete told True North by phone that he supports the governor’s policy, but added his officers will be focused on emergencies rather than enforcing limits on gatherings.
Stowe Police Chief Donald Hull, however, told True North the restrictions on gathering are “not enforceable.” He added that there are no fines or fees for infractions of these orders.
Barre City Police Chief Tim Bombardier and Rutland Police Chief Brian Kilcullen each expressed similarly that enforcement is not going to be their role, but if they receive repeated complaints of violations then individual matters could be referred to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.
State police did not respond to True North’s request for comment. However, a statement on the “Plan for Thanksgiving Weekend” mentions traffic enforcement along with a reminder to wear seat belts and drive sober.
Pontbriand said traffic accidents are up for the year despite less travel on the roads this year.
“Roadside fatalities are on the rise, strangely enough,” he said. “Even though there’s less traveling there seem to be more fatalities on the interstate than there has been in the past.”
Police in other parts of the nation have also expressed the inability, or even refusal, to enforce orders against gatherings.
In Howell, New Jersey, Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said that his department will not be enforcing such measures.
“I wasn’t going to have my police officers going knocking on doors and ruining somebody’s holiday just to check on how many people are inside their house,” he told Fox & Friends.
New Mexico Democrat Gov. Michelle Grisham issued a five-person limit on Thanksgiving gatherings, but she admitted that it’s unenforcible.
“There is no way, anywhere in the country, we’re going to be able to say, look, you brought another household together. There [were] 10 of you having Thanksgiving dinner. But we are hopeful that people will really take heed,” she said.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot went as far as to say that residents “must cancel the normal Thanksgiving plans.”
At least one governor is claiming that she will make good on threats to punish violators of gathering restrictions. Oregon Democrat Governor Kate Brown is threatening a month in jail and $1,250 fines for those who dare challenge her rules.