Ban on public gatherings will be enforced, county officials say

Gov Reynolds’ declaration of a public health disaster Tuesday significantly changed daily life for most Iowans. Iowans are accustomed to school closures, cancellations of events, and even occasional closures of businesses and public offices due to blizzards, but a closure of the magnitude imposed by the governor is new.

In declaring a public health disaster, Reynolds went beyond encouraging Iowans to stay home. She made it illegal to attend a movie, dine out, and even to gather in a group of more than 10 people. Those ordinary activities as of Tuesday at noon are now misdemeanor.

Enforcement is the duty of all peace officers. In Greene County, that’s the sheriff’s office and the Jefferson police department.

According to sheriff Jack Williams, law enforcement agencies have been reminded by the State Attorney General’s office that officers who don’t enforce the laws under the proclamation could themselves be charged.

“We will be checking businesses and enforcing the gatherings (limit) as best as possible, as we do not have the manpower to enforce it the way it should be,” Williams told GreeneCountyNewsOnline.

He said deputies will issue a warning for a first violation and then make arrests if the situation persists.

County attorney Thomas Laehn said that as with any criminal offenses, enforcement will depend on the observations of officers and deputies while on patrol and on reports provided to law enforcement by concerned citizens.

“The governor has determined that the measures imposed are necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens,” Laehn said. “The governor’s orders will be strictly enforced, and those who violate them will be prosecuted.”

It’s not known how the public health disaster will affect overall crime rates. Laehn said some judges and attorneys have guessed the declaration will lead to a reduction in crime. Laehn said, though, “I would not be surprised if some types of crime, especially domestic assaults, increase as a result of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, there is a statistically significant correlation between adverse market conditions and domestic violence.

“On the other hand, I anticipate that the implementation of the Governor’s emergency measures will suppress other types of crime in the county.”

He said enforcement of the public health disaster proclamation will have no effect on the investigation and prosecution of other criminal offenses in the county.

Sheriff Williams said he foresees an increase in alcohol abuse and domestic issues in the near future with increased unemployment. “We are urging people to just walk away and cool off in those situations,” he said.

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