Local officials are speaking out to combat rumors of strict policing in enforcing Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order to combat COVID-19 that have been circulating widely on social media.
“It has come to our attention that rumors are circulating stating that law enforcement is pulling drivers over and requiring them to provide ‘permission slips’ or letters authorizing them to be out on the road or in public. THIS IS NOT TRUE,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle wrote on Facebook. “Some employers are even issuing these letters to their employees, which is feeding the unnecessary panic.”
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office and many local police agencies stated earlier this week that their goal is to educate rather than punish people for noncompliance.
“Our deputies are not being asked to detain, arrest, ticket or establish checkpoints for compliance,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release Tuesday.
When deputies encounter people not complying with the stay-at-home order, they’ll simply remind them of the recommendations and restrictions when appropriate.
Clark County’s smaller police agencies are taking similar approaches to the order.
Several departments said they have not increased the number of officers on patrol. They also don’t plan to proactively enforce the order, relying instead on complaints and observations made during patrols.
The sheriff’s office noted that it and other law enforcement agencies do not want to make arrests or jail anyone for violations.
Still, rumors of “passes” required to conduct essential services and a curfew have Clark County residents on edge, prompting the mayor’s message.
“The Stay at Home mandate by Gov. Inslee means to stay at home except to conduct essential functions such as getting food and medicine or going to an essential job,” McEnerny-Ogle wrote. “Police are not stopping drivers that are out doing essential tasks.”
Local law enforcement has reinforced this message.
Deputies are aware of people carrying out essential services and said rumors of individuals or businesses needing “passes” or “licenses” are untrue.
Despite some employers in the county issuing these letters, the documentation is not required. Sheriff’s Sgt. Brent Waddell said deputies are not stopping people “for papers.”
Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said the department has covered the “permission slip” rumors on its social media channels. No permission slips of any kind are needed to drive to work, the store or doctor’s office, among other essential commutes.
The rumor likely was “triggered by some employers being proactive with providing these letters to their essential staff, and now folks are concerned. This appears to be occurring in other jurisdictions. … I’ve seen several Washington law enforcement agencies address this, as well,” Kapp said in an email.
Officers continue to enforce traffic laws, even with fewer vehicles on the road. Kapp said getting pulled over for speeding or expired tabs has not stopped because of COVID-19, but police are not initiating stops based on the stay-at-home order.
“The only paperwork we need from drivers is their driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance,” she said.
Both the sheriff’s office and Vancouver Police Department also confirmed there is no curfew due to the stay-at-home order.
“People can absolutely leave their homes to do essential tasks such as get food, medicine, go to the doctor, exercise (using social distancing), etc.,” Kapp wrote.
Check with official agencies
Vancouver police have been patrolling neighborhoods to prevent an increase of package thefts and property crimes. Officers have also ramped up patrolling business districts, especially around businesses that have temporarily closed due to the statewide closures.
“(Officers) will attempt to educate violators of the order first, from a distance, and in accordance with the 6-foot social distancing guidelines,” the police department said. Efforts will be made to ensure voluntary compliance with the governor’s order.
However, Vancouver police noted that it is a gross misdemeanor to willfully violate any provision of the order. A criminal citation would be a last-resort measure.
The police department encourages people to visit official websites to get accurate information, and if they are getting their information via social media to visit the social media sites of official agencies.
“Too many rumors and speculation get spread via social media if they are not visiting official sites,” Kapp said.
Waddell referred worried people to the information the sheriff’s office posted on Facebook and through other platforms earlier this week: www.facebook.com/pg/ClarkCountySheriffsOffice/posts/?ref=page_internal.
“If we contact people in regard to congregating it will be to educate. Normal enforcement action is taking place with prescribed safety precautions,” he said. “People can still go out and enjoy outside minding the social distancing.”