People In Wisconsin Are Being Arrested, Charged For Violating Stay-At-Home Order

Some Police Departments Actively Look For Violators; Others Rely On Calls From Public

Milwaukee Police Department Squad Car
Gretchen Brown/WPR

Gov. Tony Evers issued his stay-at-home order two weeks ago, and some local police departments have already started to issue citations and refer charges for people accused of violating the order.

In Fond du Lac County, the district attorney’s office has filed charges against 10 people so far for allegedly violating the order.

Most of the charges stem from two incidents, as described by law enforcement.

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A supper club in the town of Taycheedah allegedly did not follow social distancing rules, and a guest allegedly ate in the restaurant, even though restaurants are only allowed to fulfill takeout or delivery orders. A non-essential shop in Fond du Lac allegedly stayed open for business after the order was passed down and hosted a party of more than 20 people.

Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney said police are responding to calls from the public, not driving around looking for violations.

“There’s a fine line between the government overreaching and trying to keep people safe,” he said.

Toney said not every possible violation that gets called in ends up getting charged.

The Milwaukee Police Department is facing a similar situation. Earlier this week, the department announced in a video they will pursue charges against individuals who violate the order.

Sgt. Sheronda Grant, public information officer with the department, told WPR individuals have been arrested for violating the order in Milwaukee.

“If an individual is violating it, they can be arrested for it,” Grant said. “We want people to take this seriously, this is a serious pandemic. It’s affecting people all over the world, but it’s definitely affecting our residents and our community as well.”

Milwaukee’s police department may use additional enforcement methods, like looking for violators during patrol, while the stay-at-home order is in place.

The order went into effect March 25 and will stay in place until at least Friday, April 24.

“Individuals who are out committing crimes and individuals who are out for non-essential purposes and who cause their own victimization or the victimization of others, they will be arrested for violating the order,” Grant said.

Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith said the city has been quiet for the most part, but they are being more vigilant when looking for violations while patrolling.

“Our officers in the normal course of their portal duties if they see someone that is in violation, they’ll stop, help educate the person, which is what the law says, and they will ask for voluntary compliance,” Smith explained. “In almost every case we get that voluntary compliance.”

But in some cases, Green Bay officers have had to issue citations and escort residents back to their homes.

On Monday, officers handcuffed a juvenile and took him home after he failed to comply. Officers received a report that a group of juveniles was harassing residents and were playing basketball at a park that was closed.

Smith said officers explained to the group they were in violation of the order and requested they leave the basketball court.

“They did not get voluntary compliance especially from one individual who they had to bring home to mom,” Smith explained.

Green Bay has also had some unusual violent crime incidents since the stay-at-home order was put in place, but officials say it’s hard to say if the order is a factor. There have been three homicides in the past month in Green Bay. The city can usually go a year without a homicide case, Smith said.

In an email, Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain said the department is not ramping up enforcement and has not issued any citations for violations of the order.

“We are not pro-actively looking for people in violation – as explained by Chief Wahl in an earlier blog post – but we have responded to a few complaints, and have gained voluntary cooperation in all cases,” DeSpain wrote.

Police who respond to calls of violations ask people to break up their gatherings, DeSpain said. As the stay-at-home order enters its third week, DeSpain said Madison police are getting fewer calls about businesses violating the order, and more about people having small gatherings at their homes with people from outside their households, which the order prohibits — no matter the size of the gathering.