Shelter in Place order will be enforced by police if necessary

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Stillwater's Shelter in Place order is the latest in an escalating series of proclamations issued by Mayor William Joyce aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the community, and it will be enforced by police if necessary.

Stillwater’s Shelter in Place order, which went into effect Monday at 11:59 p.m., will be enforced by municipal police if necessary.

The order was the latest in an escalating series of proclamations Mayor William Joyce has issued, aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

According to the proclamation, all residents of Stillwater are required to shelter in place at their homes, excluding necessary trips for specific essential purposes. The order also closes playgrounds, gazebos, and public sports facilities, although walking trails and the city parks themselves remain open.

Previous proclamations closing certain businesses, and prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more are still in effect. Violations of these proclamations now carry a fine of up to $500 per violation.

Multiple city officials said despite the new order, residents will not be stopped and asked to show identifying papers, or other documentation of an essential reason to be out. Police Chief Jeff Watts said officers won’t be instituting major changes to enforce the order, although they are authorized to issue citations if necessary.

“Obviously our officers would use lots of discretion on how they would approach any situation,” Watts said. “But as far as the actual Shelter in Place, if people are out moving around, our officers are not going to contact them. We are not going to require that they provide documentation that shows they have a legitimate reason to be out. We will not be fining or citing people, or arresting people for not sheltering in place.”

Watts said the most enforceable parts of the proclamation were the business closures and limits on large gatherings.

Other city officials said they hope people would comply with the order on their own. City Manager Norman McNickle at the city council meeting on Monday said people should take the threat of community spread seriously.

“You just need to act like you have it,” McNickle said. “There is community spread, no ifs, ands or buts.”

Social distancing measures are being enforced at many essential businesses throughout Stillwater, although shortened hours and panic buying have kept some stores crowded. Mayor Joyce said at the city council meeting on Monday that citizens should consider the necessity of a trip before they leave their homes.

“Even if something is open, even if something is available for you to do, you should not go do it just because you can go do it,” Joyce said. “Just stay home unless you absolutely need to be out.”

The measures taken by the city government mirrors those of other municipalities throughout the state.

“These kinds of measures work best when they are done in conjunction with surrounding communities,” Joyce said.

The only public commentator to speak at Monday’s city council meeting said he is not a Stillwater resident, but all of his business and shopping takes place in Stillwater.

“I understand people are afraid, and I don’t blame them,” Ali Sarsak said.

Sarsak said the proclamation was a violation of his First Amendment right to assemble, and his Fifth Amendment protection from unlawful search and seizure.

“Their fears do not cancel my rights,” Sarsak said.

Mayor Joyce said the measure had received both positive and negative feedback from the public.