Education will be first priority for police as they enforce new Mills order
HOULTON, Maine — Local law enforcement officials want to reassure the public that while they are ready to enforce Gov. Janet Mills’ stay-at-home order, residents should not expect a police state.
On Tuesday, Mills ordered all Mainers to stay in their homes except to shop for necessities or to go to jobs deemed essential through April 30. The edict follows similar plans put forth by many other states across the nation as a method to fight the coronavirus.
Lt. Brian Harris of the Maine State Police Troop F division said there would be no change in how they conduct business following the mandate. He added state troopers would not be doing checkpoints or pulling people over asking people where they are traveling.
Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen echoed those sentiments and said education would be the first priority under the new mandate. If someone was found in violation of the order, police said they would first try to educate the individual on what they are doing wrong and why they must cease their actions.
“Education is the key,” Sheriff Gillen said. “We will be informing people about why they can’t do it and what the consequences are. We are going to give people plenty of chances, but if we are forced to, we will enforce it.”
Violation of the order is a class E crime subject to a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. In addition, compliance with the order may be enforced by government officials who regulate licenses, permits or any other authorization to operate a business or occupy a building.
Houlton Police Chief Tim DeLuca said his department would also be focusing on educating the public.
“The biggest difference is last week, it was suggested practices to stay at home, but now it is an executive order,” DeLuca said. “However, this will not be a police state. We are not going to be stopping cars. What we are asking for is voluntary compliance.”
DeLuca added those individuals who are deemed essential employees for work will not need to have any printed documentation explaining why they are not staying home.
So what types of situations would warrant a visit from police?
“It would really have to be something very blatant or very egregious and happening on a frequent basis,” Gillen said.
He used the example of someone deciding to host a party or large gathering at their house. “We would first inform them that they are in violation of the law, and if it happened again there would be consequences,” Gillen said. “It will be quite a learning curve for all of us.”