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Police given flexibility to develop own guidelines for governor's order

Becky Campbell • Apr 2, 2020 at 8:22 PM

Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner said even with the novel coronavirus spreading, it’s “business as usual” for his officers on the street as they enforce the law and new orders issued by Gov. Bill Lee.

He said directives from City Manager Pete Peterson and Lee to stay home to help slow the spread of COVID-19 are being followed and enforced. Lee gave law enforcement the flexibility to develop guidelines and enforce compliance as they see fit.

“We’ve actually given the authority to individual law enforcement agencies across the state to actually enforce this in their own way, we think that’s the best way for it to be handled,” Lee said on Thursday. “We gave them guidance on how we believe this (should be handled) and we gave them clear direction that enforcement was appropriate and that it’s something that’s we expect to happen if companies don’t ultimately comply. They will develop their own enforcement specifics in each community, but they’ve been given the directive to enforce.

“The city is developing specific guidelines as to the order Mr. Peterson (and Lee) put out,” Turner said.

Lee announced in a press conference Thursday that the state had sent a letter to every law enforcement agency in the state to ensure there was an understanding of the expectation to enforce orders being issued related to COVID-19.

“We sent a letter to law enforcement in every county to provide guidance on how it is that we should enforce this safer-at-home order and it needs to be clearly understood and law enforcement does — we’ve communicated with them — that we do expect Tennesseans to comply with this,” Lee said on Thursday.

Lee said the letter to to law enforcement officials regarded the enforcement of executive orders 17 and 21, which prohibit large gatherings and limits nonessential services from operating.

“We did that as a result of monitoring enforcement necessity, and we’ll watch this over the weekend and the days ahead and we’ll take the appropriate steps necessary to enforcement as we see them,” Lee said.

The governor said he gave local officials the authority to enforce the law, particularly in their own individual communities.

“We’ve encouraged them to educate those who don’t understand what the order says and if there’s any confusion about what compliance means to be certain to educate their citizens, businesses and those who are not in compliance with the order. We’ve given local law enforcement the authority and directed them to enforce the order. And any subsequent orders or directives that the state puts out, law enforcement will be authorized to enforce them.” Lee said on police enforcing stay-at-home orders.

Turner said officers can issue citations in lieu of physical arrest when enforcing the local and state directives for residents to stay home instead of going out into the public unless it’s necessary.

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