Investigate, Educate Is Approach to Local Safer at Home Enforcement

Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order is enforceable by any local law-enforcement official, with violation and obstruction punishable by imprisonment of up to 30 days and a fine of up to $250, according to the language contained in the order.

The penalty is based on Wisconsin statute 252.25, which governs the violation of laws pertaining to public health.

Door County law-enforcement agencies agreed to take the approach of investigation and education rather than immediately charging those in violation.

“If we find somebody in violation of the order, we are issuing a warning letter and a copy of the order,” said Chief Deputy Pat McCarty of the Door County Sheriff’s Office. “You’re in violation, here’s why and here’s the governor’s order.”

The approach seeking voluntary compliance is one that the sheriff’s office, the Sturgeon Bay Police Department and the Door County District Attorney’s Office have agreed on for the sake of consistency. 

“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Sturgeon Bay Police Capt. Dan Brinkman. “We educate if we get called to a complaint.”

Both the sheriff’s office and police department said their investigations are largely complaint based: motorists with out-of-state plates are not pulled over, for example. McCarty said the sheriff’s office had investigated 28 official complaints as of last week, and the police department had investigated about five for the whole month of April.

“The majority of them are unfounded, but some of them are legitimate,” McCarty said. “People are doing what they’re supposed to do for the most part.”

Complaints have been lodged for a variety of reasons, including gatherings at dog parks, sports games at local parks or dining establishments accused of selling beverages while customers wait for carryout orders. One complaint, McCarty said, had been made by a person who thought a residence had more than 10 people visiting because the individual noticed there were too many vehicles.

If the investigation warrants a cease-and-desist letter and voluntary compliance does not result, the matter would be referred to the district attorney’s office. Letters have been sent, but no charges have resulted.

“We’re pretty happy about that,” McCarty said. 

Brinkman said local residents have been “doing a great job” in complying with the Safer at Home order, but the police department is also hearing frustration from some people. That frustration – coupled with increasingly warmer weather – has caused the police department to anticipate increased compliance calls, Brinkman said.