After a statewide stay-at-home order took effect on Tuesday, local law enforcement agencies said they’re hoping that local residents will follow the new rules on their own.
“It’s just the same patrols,” Nogales Police Department Cpl. Oscar Mesta said on Wednesday. “We’re not going to stop people or question them or anything like that.”
A news release issued by the City of Nogales on Wednesday evening reiterated NPD’s posture, saying that officers “will not cite residents just for being out of their homes or request justification of travel.”
A Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office spokesman agreed that the order doesn’t call for aggressive enforcement measures. But he indicated that deputies would take a more proactive approach in the county’s unincorporated areas.
“The number-one thing is obtaining voluntary compliance from the community,” said Sgt. Santiago Gonzales. But, he added, “we do have the tools to be able to enforce this, and we hope it doesn’t come to that point. But if it does, we are prepared to enforce it.”
Gov. Doug Ducey’s order says that Arizonans must “limit their time” away from their homes or property except to participate in “essential activities.” That also includes obtaining what are essential services, which can include everything from obtaining groceries and supplies and caring for family members and pets, to going to court and church – or even to get hair or nails done, according to a story published by Capitol Media Services.
And it specifically includes outdoor activities such as golf and hiking, “but only if appropriate physical distancing practices are used.”
That means there are plenty of legitimate reasons for residents to be out on the street or driving around. And the order states that “no person shall be required to provide documentation or proof of their activities to justify their activities under this order.”
Violators of the executive order would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can result in up to six months in jail.
But both NPD and the sheriff’s office said they wouldn’t pull vehicles over just on suspicion of violating the mandate.
“We’re not going to stop them for an executive order,” Mesta said. “If we do stop people, it’s for a probable cause, either a traffic infraction or an incident we’re investigating, nothing out of the norm.”
Gonzales said that sheriff’s deputies would continue making routine traffic stops, but would ask questions related to the stay-at-home order.
“We’re not doing traffic stops to ask people where they’re coming or where they’re going as it relates to the executive order,” he said. “What I’m putting out to the deputies is, is have that conversation with members of the public that you encounter… so we can spread the word.”
“Obviously with the order,” he added, “the individual does not have to (provide) any documentation of what their business is.”
He said deputies could also question people at home.
“One of the issues that I did observe over the weekend is gatherings at residences, mostly here in Rio Rico,” Gonzales said. “It’s probably family that are gathering up because there’s nothing else to do at this point, so they feel it’s OK to go over to somebody’s house and gather. And then that would be in violation.”
“We might knock on the door, see what’s going on,” he added.
In Patagonia, a March 31 proclamation issued by Mayor Andrea Wood states that first-time violators of the executive order or local stay-at-home rules would have “an opportunity to comply before enforcement.” But, “upon a repeat violation,” the proclamation states, “the orders may be cited with a class 1 criminal misdemeanor.”
Patagonia Marshal Joe Patterson wrote in an email that his department had “no plans to make traffic stops on violations of the executive order.”
He said he hadn’t observed any instances of suspicious gatherings on private property or responded to any calls about possible violations of the order.
And Sheriff Antonio Estrada told the NI that he wants to avoid imposing the harsher penalties that could come with a violation for safety reasons.
“One of the things obviously that we don’t want to do is start putting people in jail, because we want to minimize the concerns in the jail,” Estrada said. “Citing people probably would be something we would do, making sure that they go home.”
Open to interpretation
Speaking on Thursday morning, Gonzales said the Sheriff’s Office had responded to one call about a possible violation of state coronavirus-related restrictions.
That was a report of a Sonoita business that was still operating after it should have been closed. But when deputies arrived, Gonzales said, the business was closed.
Mesta said NPD hadn’t responded to any calls about people or businesses violating any orders.
“There’s nothing that says that stores cannot be open,” he added.
The ambiguous definition of “essential” activities means that some businesses have been left to interpret the order themselves.
While many Nogales retailers had closed their doors even before the stay-at-home order took effect, the Hobby Lobby at the Mariposa Shopping center was still open for business on Wednesday and Thursday.
A sign posted on the front door said the arts-and-crafts retailer was “Operating as an essential business, offering PPE mask supplies, educational supplies, office supplies, and various components for at home small business.”
A cashier told the NI on Thursday afternoon that the store didn’t have any face masks or disinfectant products available, but some customers had purchased fabric to use for homemade face masks.
The store has come under fire in states including Colorado, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin for keeping stores open, despite stay-at-home orders in those states.
In Colorado, Assistant Attorney General Eric Kuhn sent a cease-and-desist order to the company on April 1 demanding that all Hobby Lobby locations in the state close.
“For the avoidance of doubt, and as you have been previously notified,” Kuhn wrote, “Hobby Lobby is not a ‘critical business.’”
Asked about the local Hobby Lobby location, Mesta said that NPD wouldn’t take action unless they received a call related to the store.