‘It Is A Criminal Violation’: Wisconsin Law Enforcement Weigh In On Enforcing ‘Stay-At-Home’ Order

Officials: Communities Are Voluntarily Complying To Order

Lights on a police car

With Gov. Tony Evers’ “stay-at-home” order in place, Wisconsin law enforcement agencies say they are prepared to enforce the order in their communities.

The order, which went into effect on March 25, will stay in place until April 24, unless another order is made.

As part of the order, Wisconsinites are only allowed to leave their homes to do essential things, like going to the doctor, the pharmacy or the grocery store. People are allowed to go outside to exercise, but they are required to practice social distancing and keep 6 feet between themselves and others.

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Although people don’t need permission to leave their homes under the governor’s order, law enforcement agencies do have authority to enforce the order and issue citations. Agencies in Eau Claire, Madison, Washington County, Milwaukee, Rock County and others took to social media to share their thoughts on the order and to let the public know their agencies’ roles.

Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales sent out a YouTube video encouraging community members to voluntarily comply with the order. He also said that Milwaukee police officers would be in the community to answer any questions residents might have.

Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson has been posting updates on the Rock County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page to keep his community involved and updated on enforcement.

“Health and the safety of our community is our highest priority,” Knudson said in a video. “This is not the time to worry about citations or arrests or something like that. We are just trying to make sure that everybody takes the best possibly care of themselves.”

Officials at some police departments have said their communities have been following the order and that they have had only a few calls of possibly violations. However, officials at each department stressed that there are consequences if individuals are violating the order.

“They could be looking at up to at least 30 days in jail or up to $250 fine or both,” said Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith. “But we have not had to do that so far.”

This is different from residents who violate a quarantine order or medical isolation in Wisconsin. WPR reported earlier this month that according to state law, people can be jailed for up to nine months and fined up to $10,000. At the time of this report, only three cases of the new coronavirus were reported in Wisconsin. As of Monday, there were 1,221 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state and 19 people have died.

According to Washington County Sheriff Martin Schultis, residents who are just out in public doesn’t give authorities reasonable suspicion they’re violating the order. Washington County law enforcement offices have taken some complaints, like bars being open, but Schultis said his department hasn’t had any issues with residents following the order.

“Law enforcement is looking for voluntary compliance of the order,” Schultis said. “We don’t want it to turn into law enforcement issue. It’s really a public safety and health issue.”

According to Schultis, the district attorney’s office in each county will handle any violations of the order.

“It is a criminal violation. It’s an arrestable violation,” Schultis said. “But it’s probably not what many agencies would take someone into physical custody for violating. They would rather refer the charges to the district attorney’s office for review.”

Schultis explained that the order is different than the quarantine laws. If an individual violates quarantine laws, they are posing a direct threat to public safety.