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O.C. police departments focus on education for voluntary compliance with California curfew order

A Huntington Beach Police Parking Control officer exits his truck on Friday.
A Huntington Beach Police Parking Control officer exits his truck on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

As coronavirus cases surge across California, state officials announced Thursday that they would be implementing a mandatory, overnight stay-at-home order just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a rollback of dozens of counties into the purple, “widespread” tier.

The order affects about 94% of Californians that are currently living within the most restrictive tier in the state’s reopening plans, including Orange County. It prohibits most nonessential activities and asks residents to stay at home between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

It will go into effect this Saturday and will be in place through Dec. 21, but state health officials said it may be extended or revised.

State officials said that activities between the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. are typically nonessential and more likely related to social activities and gatherings, adding that they have “a higher likelihood of leading to reduced inhibition and reduced likelihood for adherence to safety measures like wearing a face covering and maintaining physical distance.”

The order prohibits most nonessential activity outside the home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in counties in the strictest tier of the state’s reopening road map. It begins Saturday.

Many of the restrictions imposed by the order reflect the stay-at-home order in March, which still allows Californians to go buy groceries, pick up restaurant takeout orders, visit doctors and other healthcare or essential service providers.

California hit a new single-day record on Thursday with 13,422 new COVID-19 cases reported. On Friday, Orange County reported 1,169 new cases.

So who will be policing the state’s overnight curfew? Orange County police departments said Friday that they would largely be continuing with existing practices. Departments said they have largely seen voluntary compliance.

A California State Park Peace Officer at PCH and Main St. in Huntington Beach.
A California State Park Peace Officer sits in his SUV at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street in Huntington Beach on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Friday in a statement that deputies would not be dispatched or respond to calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings and stay-at-home orders only. Deputies will respond to calls on potential criminal behavior and for the protection of life and property.

“Let me be clear — this is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement,” Barnes said. “Orange County residents have been diligent over the last eight months in striking a balance between protecting ourselves from COVID-19 and doing what is necessary to continue to live our lives.”

Barnes’ statement mirrors that of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, which also stated Thursday that it would not be enforcing compliance with any health or emergency orders related to “curfews, staying at home, Thanksgiving or other social gatherings inside or outside the home, maximum occupancy or mask mandates.”

“Collectively, we must do everything we can to protect our friends, families and our communities,” Barnes said. “I continue to wear a face covering and practice social distancing. I encourage others to continue to do so because it will prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

In nearby Los Angeles County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that deputies would be focusing on education and voluntary compliance with criminal enforcement as a last resort — a way of thinking that is reflected in local police departments throughout Orange County.

Newport Beach police officers enforce the closure of the beach along the Wedge, a very popular surf spot on July 4.
Newport Beach police officers enforce the closure of the beach along the Wedge, a very popular surf spot on July 4.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Heather Rangel said that officers would continue with education, which has resulted in voluntary compliance with state and county mandates.

Fountain Valley Lt. Jarrod Frahm said that the department would also be doing the same. Frahm said officers would continue responding to calls for service as it relates to violations of state and country mandates, but that the emphasis would be on educating.

A clinical trial of the coronavirus-fighting ability of face masks had inconclusive results, but researchers say it strengthens the case for universal mask use.

This is also the case in Laguna Beach.

Lt. Jim Cota said in an email, “With respect to the Governor’s order, we will seek to educate the public first and foremost. Enforcement options are available, if necessary, but our priority right now is education first and seeking compliance with our community.”

In Costa Mesa, the department issued a statement Thursday night that said it would be continuing current practices to respond to calls.

“In the past, we have been met with cooperation and voluntary compliance after responding to those calls for service. It is important that we all do our part to keep the numbers of COVID from rising so that we can reopen our economy, keep businesses operating and schools and city amenities open,” the statement read.

The Huntington Beach Police Department on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.
The Huntington Beach Police Department.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Interim Huntington Beach Police Chief Julian Harvey said Friday that the department would be enforcing the overnight stay-at-home order if necessary, though education of community members and business owners is the first priority.

“It’s educate, educate, educate,” Harvey said. “We’re going to ask for compliance, and we’re going to hopefully get compliance. But we are prepared, in the hopefully very rare occurrences where we don’t get compliance, to take enforcement action. That could take a lot of forms. It could be documenting the incident with a report. Again, I hope we don’t get to that. We hope, with education and conversation, we will get compliance.”

Harvey said at this point, the pervasiveness of the virus is clear, as is the need to take safety measures to interrupt it.

“This can’t happen without the cooperation of the community, which we fully expect to get,” he said. “That includes abiding by the curfew and the other mandates — the closure of businesses, outside dining only. Unless and until everyone steps up, we’re going to be struggling with this virus.”

The coronavirus surge is taking an increasingly dire toll across the U.S. just as a vaccine appears close at hand.

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