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'Education before citation': Idaho law enforcement's response to stay-at-home order

Gov. Brad Little stopped short of outlining any citations or criminal charges that could be leveled against people who violate the stay-home order.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The Kootenai County Sheriff's Office's motto when it comes to enforcing Idaho's temporary stay at home order is 'education before citation.'

On Wednesday, Idaho Governor Brad Little issued a stay-at-home order for all of Idaho, requiring everyone in the state to self-isolate at home if possible. The order applies to all citizens, not just those who are sick.

Healthcare workers, public safety workers, and other "essential" workers may still go to work, and people will be allowed to leave their homes to obtain or provide essential services.

Little also ordered the closure of all dine-in restaurants in the state, although drive-through and delivery will still be allowed. "Non-essential" businesses like gyms, bars, salons and convention centers must close. Childcare, auto repair shops, grocery stores, and healthcare facilities can remain open.

Little stopped short of outlining any citations or criminal charges that could be leveled against people who violate the stay-home order, saying he hopes "peer pressure from the communities" will help convince people that self-isolating is the right thing to do for public safety.

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"Our goal isn't to arrest people, it's to keep Idahoans safe by maintaining this stay-home order," he said. 

Some North Idaho agencies echoed his remarks.

"We're not out there looking to write citations for people or arrest people. That's not the point of this," said Sgt. Chris Wagar of the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office. Deputies plan to educate people not following the order and encourage compliance.

"With the order coming down from the governor and this essentially being law, the sheriff is required to enforce the law. Does that mean we're going to go out, arrest people, throw them in jail, give them tickets so they have to go to court? No, not at all," said Wagar. "It's, again, education."

While Idaho law technically states that "any person who violates an order of isolation or quarantine shall be guilty of a misdemeanor," Little said he had faith that most people in the Gem state would follow the directive.

"I have confidence that the vast majority of Idahoans will follow it carefully and protect themselves and their neighbors from the spread of coronavirus. In most instances, the appropriate step is for law enforcement to educate and disperse groups not complying with the stay-home order," said Little in a statement provided to KREM.

Benewah County Sheriff Dave Resser, in a statement posted online, said his deputies would be conducting "business as usual" during Little's order.

"We will still be responding to calls, running traffic, and keeping the peace as usual. We will not be looking for essential or non-essential travelers, issuing special ID’s for essential workers, or giving fines to non-essential employees," wrote Resser on Facebook. "If we receive a complaint, we will respond and take care of it accordingly."

Wagar had said that the Sheriff's Office had been receiving calls and inquiries from several citizens curious if their business would be impacted by the order.

"Just about like with anything, there's going to be some grey area," he said. "This is unprecedented territory. We've never really encountered anything like this before."

Read Little's full order here. 

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