Summit County law enforcement officials praise residents’ response to public health orders
DILLON — It’s been nearly two months since Summit County enacted its COVID-19 public health order, placing restrictions on businesses and gatherings, and later requiring residents to wear face coverings in public areas.
Community members largely have risen to the challenge, according to officials. Local law enforcement leaders have maintained a position of education over enforcement from the beginning and say residents have been open to adjusting their habits to meet requirements.
“Everybody in town has been fantastic,” Breckenridge Police Chief Jim Baird said. “We have one-off cases here and there, but for the most part, everyone has been complying with public health orders and has been receptive when we point out they’re not in compliance. Almost always, the cases we come across are because of a lack of knowledge.”
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown noted that things have been quieter in Summit County than in neighboring areas in the district. He said three violations have come out of Eagle County so far, including an incident when a man in a grocery store allegedly purposefully coughed on another customer’s groceries after being asked to physically distance.
Brown said he’s working with law enforcement in Lake County to develop a hierarchy of enforcement, meant to provide guidance to officers dealing with individuals “more brazen about violating.” The guide would essentially give police direction on how to handle different levels of violations, repeat offenders and more.
“Law enforcement officers by instinct and training use their ability to exercise discretion to reflect the community,” Brown said. “But now they’re being tested to do it in a public health environment that is foreign to all of us. So this is some type of guidance. The last thing we want to do is try and police our way out of a public health crisis. Public health and public safety are different goals. It just so happens they do intersect in the age of coronavirus.”
Those same needs haven’t been voiced by Summit’s law enforcement.
“People have been compliant in Summit County,” Brown said. “They’re very vigilant in policing themselves and sometimes over vigilant in policing their neighbors.”
Brown is referring to individuals submitting complaints about issues that weren’t legitimate public health order violations — something the county and its law enforcement agencies said was common.
“Last week, countywide we responded to 21 calls for service, and no citations or notices were issued,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “It kind of gives you a grasp of what people think they’re seeing as violations. But when we get there to investigate, it’s really not.”
Officials pegged short-term rental violations as perhaps the most frequent complaint popping up. The county follows up on every complaint dealing with a specific property or business.
Summit County Planning Department Director April Kroner said code enforcement or law enforcement officers visit short-term rental properties following complaints to ensure compliance but that bad actors are rare.
“It’s typically a second-home owner doing some work on their home or a housekeeper doing some deep cleaning,” Kroner said.
Other common complaints deal with noncompliance in businesses, either in regard to a lack of physical distancing or mask enforcement. When a complaint about a business is received, county officials contact the store directly and follow up with an in-person visit from staff or law enforcement to ensure compliance.
The county is also about to begin conducting random checks on businesses to make sure they’re in compliance. Tanya Shattuck, who’s overseeing the spot checks for the county, said they’d include filling out a checklist of requirements — including mask and glove compliance among employees, social distancing between customers and more — and help to educate business owners when necessary.
Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine, who oversees the county’s COVID-19 email service, said mask compliance among residents has become less of an issue as more signage at businesses and other areas improves. Though, complaints do remain and steps are being taken throughout the county to ensure community members are taking the policies seriously. Vaine said the county has given out thousands of masks and pamphlets to businesses and customers who weren’t wearing masks.
In Breckenridge, town staff members are working as ambassadors at public buildings and parks, hoping to educate community members about social distancing and face coverings.
“The point of them being out there is to help educate, engage with people who might not know and give a little peace of mind to others in the parks and other facilities knowing there’s someone there to focus on that,” said Haley Littleton, Breckenridge’s communications coordinator.
Both Breckenridge and Frisco have adopted their own ordinances requiring face coverings in some public locations. By way of the county’s public health order, all county residents already are required to wear masks in indoor public places and outdoors when 6 feet of separation can’t be maintained.
The town ordinances directly mirror the county’s order, but town officials believe the move will help emphasize and show support for the policy.
Frisco adopted its ordinance Tuesday evening. Baird said his department in Breckenridge has received just two calls regarding possible violations since the town ordinance was passed last week, and no citations have been issued.
“We’ve responded more so the stores have a little bit of backing,” Baird said. “A lot of times, they’d have to call us and say, ‘We have a mask policy that somebody isn’t abiding by,’ and we end up going up there. Now it’s an ordinance, as well. We’ve seen large compliance with it since it’s been in place.”
Trailhead crowding and second-home owners arriving in Summit County make up most of the other complaints. And while second-home owners are allowed, though discouraged by public health officials from making their way to the county, the increase in visitors over the weekend wasn’t an illusion.
According to traffic data from the Colorado Department of Transportation, the number of Front Range vehicles making their way west through the Eisenhower tunnel has steadily increased over the past three weekends from 14,110 (April 25-26) to 16,365 (May 2-3) to 20,160 (May 9-10). Additionally, a crude count of 468 cars on Summit trailheads last weekend represents the second highest total since at least the first weekend in April, according to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
It’s unlikely the county can expect its normal number of visitors anytime this summer, but as restrictions around the state begin to loosen and summer holidays arrive, officials are prepping for an influx.
“We’re anticipating Memorial Day weekend will be heavier than all of them,” said Capt. Jared Rapp, the local Colorado State Patrol commander. “With the increase in traffic and the safer-at-home order change, we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve and make sure we’ll be anticipating those increased traffic flows. We’ll be increasing our presence as well.”
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