Washington residents will see drastic change to daily lives with the governor’s new rules designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. The coming days also will be a challenge for the police agencies tasked with enforcing those rules.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all Washington residents to stay home unless necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. Large gatherings have also been banned and nonessential businesses are ordered to close.

Pullman Police Department Chief Gary Jenkins said this is the first time in his law enforcement career that he’s been faced with enforcing such restrictions. It is challenging, he said, because this situation is not something officers typically train for.

“We understand it’s an adjustment for everybody and it’s an adjustment for us,” Jenkins said.

The police chief said officers will work to achieve compliance first through educating people about the governor’s proclamations and issuing warnings to any offenders.

“That’s worked so far and that’s going to be our approach moving forward,” he said

If police find someone is repeatedly violating the governor’s orders and has ignored previous warnings, that person could be charged with a gross misdemeanor. Jenkins said police want to avoid these scenarios, which is why it is pleading with the public to comply.

Jenkins said people should notify officers if they see any violations, particularly if they see people violating the large gathering rules. According to the weekend’s police logs, the department received two complaints of people not practicing social distancing.

Jenkins said his staff has been receiving inquiries about what is and isn’t an essential business. He said his department is doing its best to interpret the state’s list of essential businesses. That list can be found at coronavirus.wa.gov and at this shortened web link: https://bit.ly/3asSBCB

Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers issued a news release urging the public to honor the state’s requests to stay home when not performing a necessary or essential function.

“We understand the health of the community and rights of individual citizens must be appropriately balanced, which is why we are asking for compliance and self-regulation for the next two weeks,” he said.

The Whitman County Sheriff’s Office is also asking people to avoid using 911 for any situation other than for a health and safety emergency or to report a crime.

A news release stated that since the COVID-19 outbreak, Whitcom 911 staff is struggling to prioritize and handle the calls that they are required to take.

“Whitcom Dispatchers have a necessary and demanding job that has become even more critical in the past few weeks due to the current epidemic we as a country are facing,” the news release states. “Because of that we are requesting the public please remember that 911 is for emergencies only.”

Palouse Mayor Chris Cook sent out a statement notifying the public that the city’s police staff will begin enforcing gathering bans.

“Because this is a complicated and wildly challenging mandate, I personally ask that we all assist and support our law enforcement staff as they work to protect and serve the greater community,” Cook wrote.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to akuipers@dnews.com.

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