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'Stay At Home' is starting. How will it be enforced?

You won't get cited just for leaving your home, but local police can enforce the order if you repeatedly refuse to obey

MINNEAPOLIS — Starting Friday at 11:59 p.m., Minnesota will join roughly two-dozen other states with “Stay at Home” policies, virtue of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order that lasts through April 10.

The unprecedented decision, intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 and “buy time” for the state to build hospital capacity, led to understandable questions from the public about how it will work and how police will enforce the order.

“It is certainly not our intention,” Gov. Walz said this week, “to make someone a criminal for going and getting bread.”

That sentiment was underscored Friday afternoon, when the Department of Public Safety released a guidance document emphasizing some leniency. Instead of immediately arresting or citing someone for non-essential travel, DPS Commissioner John Harrington instructed local law enforcement agencies to “seek to educate instead of taking an enforcement approach.”

In the letter, Harrington clarifies that police should not ask for papers and recommends that officers do not stop people for “simply being out of their home.” It does not appear that law enforcement will target small groups of people, based on the correspondence between the state’s public safety arm and local police.

“It is intended that the EO is applied when a gathering has become ‘a threat to the public peace, health, safety or general welfare,’ recognizing that social distancing should also be a guide,” Harrington said in the letter. “For example, a gathering of nine people in various rooms should be handled differently than 50 people at a kegger or house party.”

DPS recommends that law enforcement only cite a misdemeanor for people who “refuse to, or fail to, comply with the officer’s attempts to gain compliance,” adding that people with more than two violations may be taken into custody.

In a news conference on Friday afternoon, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo laid out policies that appeared to align directly with the state’s recommendations. Police will not restrict free travel in Minneapolis, Arradondo said, and big gatherings that threaten public safety will be prioritized for enforcement.

“If four or five folks are at someone’s backyard having a social gathering, (that is) very different from 100 people having a large party or violating that social distance,” Arradondo said. “So, we’re continuing to make sure we’re messaging that to our officers.”

Arradondo stressed, however, that police can use their authority under the executive order to penalize people if they don’t comply.

“If that should fail,” he said, “we will use enforcement measures that are appropriate.

A spokesperson for the Saint Police Police Department said it also plans to closely follow the state’s guidance document, with an emphasis on education rather than immediate enforcement.

Other police departments have also communicated about the executive order through social media, like Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts, who released a two-minute video urging his citizens to take the Stay at Home order seriously.

"You can still go get groceries. You can still go to medical appointments, go to the doctor if you need to, go pickup takeout, food, delivery, and you can get out of your house and walk your dog,” Potts said, before adding at the end of his message that people need to avoid non-essential travel: “We really do want to spread the slow of COVID-19 and we need your help to do that.”

If you want to report a violation of the Stay At Home order, DO NOT call 9-1-1. Instead, you can call 651-793-3746 or email SAHviolation@state.mn.us.

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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