Local curfew enforcement unlikely to be draconian

El Centro Police Department Deputy Chief Robert Sawyer speaks while at the podium during the El Centro City Council’s special COVID-19 update meeting on Friday in El Centro. PHOTO VINCENT OSUNA

EL CENTRO — Imperial Valley law enforcement agencies do not plan to conduct any extra traffic stops in response to the new, state-issued curfew, which goes into effect at 10 p.m. today.

The curfew is part of the state Department of Public Health’s new limited stay-at-home order, which is effective in counties in tier one (purple) of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Per the state’s order, all gatherings with members of other households and all activities conducted outside the residence, lodging or temporary accommodation with members of other households must cease between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except for those activities associated with the operation, maintenance or usage of critical infrastructure or required by law.

This order does not apply to persons experiencing homelessness, a state Department of Public Health news release stated.

Nothing in this order prevents any number of persons from the same household from leaving their residence, lodging or temporary accommodation, as long as they do not engage in any interaction with (or otherwise gather with) any number of persons from any other household, the release stated.

This order remains in effect until 5 a.m. Dec. 21, and may be extended or revised as needed.

While this order is in effect, Valley residents need not fear being pulled over simply because they are on the road past curfew.

Imperial County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Robert Benavidez said ICSO will be continuing its efforts to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, with concentrated efforts in education and outreach in the provisions given by state health orders.

“We will continue to operate as we have in the past eight months since the first governor’s order came out, contacting those subjects whom necessitate law enforcement interaction as a result of community safety, need or assistance,” Benavidez said. “We will not make or take extra efforts to pull any vehicles over for the simple violation of curfew, and rely on community safety and probable cause to do such.”

During the El Centro City Council’s special COVID update meeting on Friday, El Centro Police Department Deputy Chief Robert Sawyer shared the ECPD’s stance on the curfew.

Sawyer said ECPD does not anticipate its officers will pull cars over if someone has the need to go out during curfew time.

“We, quite honestly, have a limited number of resources, and our first priority is protection of life and property,” the deputy chief said. “And while this is certainly a health issue that we take seriously at the police department … we’re not here to interfere with the normal activities of our community, and our public. What we will be keeping an eye on is large gatherings that are in direct violation of the order.”

In turn, Sawyer praised the El Centro community for complying with the current state health orders.

Between Oct. 30 and Friday, the ECPD has received only eight calls for service related to non-compliance, he said. No enforcement action had to be taken during these eight calls.

“I think it really goes to our community’s outlook in the seriousness of the matter and how they’re taking this,” Sawyer said. “We strongly encourage — and we believe that — our community will follow that curfew with very few exceptions. We are prepared to address the exceptions in much the same manner we did otherwise. We will first educate and then warn and then take enforcement action, only if necessary.”

Brawley Police Department interim Police Chief Brett Houser said his department has a similar stance to ECPD regarding the curfew.

“We, too, do not anticipate traffic enforcement based solely on the health order concerning curfew hours,” Houser said.

Calexico Police Department Police Chief Gonzalo C. Gerardo described the new curfew as something CPD will enforce only if necessary.

“It’s going to be real hard to enforce an executive order when you are short-handed and when we have other priority calls for service,” Gerardo said. “We will prioritize the calls and, if we can, we will respond. It’s up to our citizens to step it up and follow the order and police themselves.”

The city of Imperial also weighed in on the new order. Friday evening the city issued a statement on behalf of its Police Department regarding the new rules.

“We would like to assure the public that our officer’s first priority is to educate and inform the community of the new restrictions,” the city said. “To ensure constitutional rights are not violated and to limit potential negative interactions and exposure to our officers, we will not be responding to calls for service solely based on non-compliance with the new order, or physical distancing, and mask guidelines.

“It is important that we continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” the statement continued. “We encourage the public to protect yourself and members of your household by wearing a face covering when leaving your home, practice physical distancing, and wash your hands frequently.”

Staff Writer Vincent Osuna can be reached at vosuna@ivpressonline.com or 760-337-3442.

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(1) comment

Carlos Acuña

Kudos to Calexico Chief Gonzalo Gerardo who said, “We will prioritize the calls and, if we can, we will respond. It’s up to our citizens to step it up and follow the order and police themselves.”

I couldn't agree more. It ultimately falls on us, free citizens, to put on our adult boots and behave accordingly. Yes, to _police_ ourselves. The health and safety of our fellow human beings is at stake. As citizens of a free country we owe a duty to each other to safeguard our mutual welfare. Democracy means we don't need dictators (or members of the enforcement class) policing us 24/7 to make sure we behave as mature citizens.

Sadly, politics these past four years has been bereft of adequate role models. It's up to us to pick up the slack.

Thanks for that gentle reminder, Chief Gerardo.

Be well.

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