Aspen, Snowmass authorities take community policing approach to COVID-19 public health order enforcement

The Aspen Police Department sign on Main Street.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Local police will not be taking an aggressive approach in enforcing recent public health orders by state and local officials, which prohibit more than 10 people gathering in one place in an attempt to slow the COVID-19 disease in the community.

“I expect people to be respectful and obey it,” Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Thursday.

Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn echoed that remark, and said the public has an understanding that social distancing from one another — at least six feet — is key to slowing the virus.

“Our community is the kind of community that is going to be voluntarily compliant,” he said. “And with this community awareness, no one is going to put up with (violators).”

Linn said if officers see more than 10 people congregating they will approach them and educate them on what the public health order says and why.

“This is not a strong-armed enforcement approach,” Linn said, adding that if a complaint is made, officers will follow up on it.

That’s the same approach that Snowmass Village Police will use, said Police Chief Brian Olson.

“We would deal with it on a case-by-case basis based on our observation, or a report,” he said. “From what I’ve been observing, we are getting great compliance.”

The public health orders issued by Gov. Jared Polis and Pitkin County on Wednesday extend to April 17 and include the closures of public schools and the continuation of shuttered restaurants and bars, along with the 10-person gathering rule.

DiSalvo said some members of the public aren’t aware of the order, partly because the gathering number has changed from 50 to 10, and every jurisdiction has different rules.

“It’s hard to enforce because people can claim ignorance,” he said.

He added that he will not accept anonymous complaints and he hopes people will read the public health orders so they understand their importance.

Scott Bookman, the state’s public health incident commander for COVID-19, said during a media briefing Thursday that people need to take social distancing seriously, and that includes limiting how many individuals are in a home.

“The community needs to understand that the only way we are going to contain this spread of the illness is we have to practice social distancing,” he said. “We are hoping to have voluntary compliance to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but we do have the ability to enforce at the local level.”

Violating any part of the county order is punishable by up to $5,000 fine and as much as 18 months in jail.

The area’s top law enforcement officials said they don’t see officers writing tickets.

“We have to start an educational campaign,” DiSalvo said, adding he also doesn’t want a community-wide big brother scenario playing out, along with misinformation and hysteria on social media. “We hope this doesn’t lead to public shaming and neighbors narking on neighbors.”


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