When Gov. Bill Lee ordered Tennesseans stay at home on Thursday he also provided local law enforcement agencies with the authority to decide how they’d enforce it.
After a Zoom call with Tipton County’s sheriff and police chiefs Friday afternoon it’s clear: They don’t want to have to cite or arrest you, they just want you to stay home and use common sense.
“Let there be no misunderstanding: There are options for those that don’t want to comply,” said Atoka Police Chief Poole. “That is an option I hope we never have to use. It makes our officers’ jobs a lot easier because it’s tough enough as it is right now. People need to stop and think and put themselves in their shoes, too.”
What happens if I don’t comply?
Not complying with the state’s stay-at-home order is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months, 29 days in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.
While none of the agencies wants to have to cite anyone for not complying with the order, they will.
They don’t plan on stopping cars at random, but if they notice the same people out and about they may stop them to ask questions.
“If the officer sees the same vehicle multiple times and it looks like they’re not going anywhere, they may get stopped to see what they’re up to,” Covington Police Chief Larry Lindsey said. “Primarily we’re under the stay at home order and if you’re not going to take care of business – as far as looking after your family, looking after your health or going to work – we really need you to stay at home.”
If you host a coronavirus party, for instance, or allow your teenagers to hang out in public places, expect to see someone with a badge show up.
Chief Poole and Munford Police Chief Randal Baskin said they planned to eliminate the gatherings, even socially distanced, in parking lots.
“We want to listen and we want the Tipton Countians and the world to listen what the doctors are saying,” said Sheriff Pancho Chumley. “They’re saying unless it’s essential, don’t go out of your house.”
What’s essential, again?
The state has released a list of what is and is not considered essential. Going to and from work, picking up food and medications and even exercising outside are all okay.
“Are we going to go up and arrest somebody for walking through the park? No,” Chumley said. “We’re not going to do that, but if we have a large congregation … we discourage that strongly and we’re going with what the experts are saying.”
When asked if driving around looking for teddy bears at local homes, which has become a trend during social distancing, was something the public could continue doing the police chiefs simultaneously shook their heads no.
“That’s not essential,” said Lindsey. “I understand people are trying to entertain themselves, but to me that’s not an essential thing. The more we can stay at home the better it’s going to be.”
To be clear, you can walk around your neighborhood and spot the bears, just don’t load the family up and go on a drive just to get out of the house.
The state is using cell phone tracking data and traffic counts to monitor movement by the public. Tennessee and Tipton County were rated a D- in social distancing this week by Unacast because movement has started to increase despite the governor “strongly urging” residents to stay home.
“We’ve had a good response, but there’s still a lot of traffic out. I could go through a thousand hypotheticals like we all could, but, for example, if somebody wanted to go walk down the road or go down the track, that’s fine, I think that’s great,” Chumley said. “But what happens if that one or two people there turns into more than 10 people, then it goes against the guidelines of the health experts. The big thing is to practice common sense.”
Is there a curfew in Tipton County?
Mason is the only West Tennessee town with a curfew. Residents are required to be on their property or inside their homes from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. each day.
Chief Vatisha Barken said her department hasn’t had to cite anyone yet.
“It’s working out to help us keep them in. That’s our goal: to keep everybody in.”
What the sheriff and chiefs recommend
Everyone recommended the very same thing: Stay home.
“Two words: Stay home,” said Chief Poole. “If they don’t, I can see the governor coming down with stricter guidelines.”
“Amen,” Chumley replied. “I think everybody wants to do the right thing, but people want to stretch it and say ‘I want to go here and I want to go there …’ Well, where does it stop? Everybody will come up with so many different answers but the bottom line is, unless it’s essential, you really need to stay home. The longer we stay at home the quicker we get through it. “