This weekend in Edina, so many people congregated in large groups—violating the current stay-at-home order—that the city implemented a separate crackdown on gatherings.
“We had hoped we would see 100 percent compliance by residents.… This is not optional,” city manager Scott Neal told the Star Tribune.
Gov. Tim Walz’s March 25 executive order told Minnesotans to stay “at home or in their place of residence” from 11:59 p.m. on Friday the 27th through April 10 at 5 p.m. But if you’ve been outside your house since the warning was issued or went into effect, you may have noticed that’s… not necessarily happening.
Just saw U of M students playing beer pong. We're fucked!— Jay Boller (@jaymboller) March 26, 2020
Something you might not know if you haven’t read executive order 20-20 in full (which, reasonable) is that it's actually a misdemeanor to leave the house right now (except under certain circumstances). Per the order, doing so is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail.
It begs the question… is anyone getting booked or fined for being outside?
We asked around, and the good news is, they’re not. (Yet.)
Five days in, no arrests or citations have been issued in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brooklyn Park, Bloomington, Edina, or Rochester, according to spokespeople representing those police departments. (North Shore folks: No arrests or citations in Duluth, either.)
In Rochester, Lieutenant Tom Faudskar said officers are only responding to complaints and approaching groups they encounter as part of normal patrol duties.
“We are not prioritizing this but have encouraged officers to remind people of the order when appropriate,” said Brooklyn Park PD deputy chief Mark Bruley.
To be clear: This is good. We at City Pages have an extremely anti-hassling-people-just-going-about-their-business stance. No one wants a more militarized state.
We’ve also got a pretty firm anti-pandemic stance, and a crucial part of flattening the COVID-19 curve and protecting the vulnerable is for all of us to stay the hell home. Though a lot of people are taking self-isolating seriously—hanging out inside except for essential trips or exercise, maintaining distances of six feet or more when they do go out—a lot of folks are not.
Part of the problem is that the order is kiiinda vague. Say you and your partner go on a state-sanctioned bike ride around the lakes. Then you run into a friend and stop to talk—from the mandated six feet away. Is that allowed?
“We have expressed to our staff that it is nearly impossible for us to enforce this order considering it allows a great amount of latitude for people to be out,” Bruley says. People have been gathering outside because “outdoor activities” like running, biking, and fishing are among the #StayHomeMN exemptions, which also include trips to get medical supplies, takeout, or gas.
“We have had some issues in parks,” Faudskar said. In Rochester, they’ve responded by fencing in the skate park, locking their tennis courts, and putting up signs about the order.
In Brooklyn Park, Bruley said they’re only telling officers to respond to complaints that involve obvious violations, like large groups or parties. “And even then, exhaust all possibilities to gain voluntary compliance with the executive order.”
Bloomington’s deputy chief of police Mike Hartley said they’re doing the same: responding to complaints and educating those who appear to be in violation. They’re working with Parks and Recreation to produce an educational pamphlet that officers can hand out to folks who may be confused about the order.
Edina city communications director Jennifer Bennerotte says they’re taking it one step further: From 9 a.m. through 6 p.m., they have four Parks & Recreation employees serving as “park ambassadors,” patrolling the parks and responding to “reports of organized group play outside of a family.” Two school district employees are similarly reacting to complaints on their grounds.
“Keeping an appropriate distance, they approach the group, explain the governor’s stay-at-home order and the importance of social distancing, and ask them to break up the play,” Bennerotte says. “In all cases, they have achieved voluntary compliance.”
That’s a phrase that comes up a lot. “The order does allow us to enforce with citations or arrest, but right now we are focusing on educating people on the specifics of the order and the need for the order,” Faudskar said. “We are looking for voluntary compliance.”
“The focus is on education and voluntary compliance. Ticketing and arrest is a last resort,” said St. Paul Police spokesperson Michael Ernster. “Our hope is everyone would follow the order for the overall health of our community members and to minimize these types of complaints.”