Enforcement by Pennsylvania State Police of Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders regarding the coronavirus or COVID-19 crisis has taken multiple forms.
For instance, in Twitter posts overnight, the spokesmen for Troop A, Trooper Cliff Greenfield in White Township and Trooper Steve Limani in Greensburg, exercised what they called “rumor control.”
One tweet read, “Our Patrol operations remain the same as they were prior to #COVID19. We are NOT conducting #COVID19 checkpoints.”
Another: “Pennsylvania highways remain OPEN. They are not closed due to COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, Monday marked the start of another aspect of that enforcement. State Police Commissioner Col. Robert Evanchick said his agency’s priority in enforcing the governor’s order to close physical locations of “non-life-sustaining” businesses “is protecting lives and maintaining order in the commonwealth.”
Evanchick said troopers and liquor control enforcement officers are prepared to ensure compliance with the governor’s order, which could subject noncompliant entities to summary non-traffic citations that could be punishable by fines or even jail time.
“Troopers across the state have been given the same guidance,” Greenfield said. “Members of the public can call us to report non-compliant businesses and we will then follow up on all those reports.”
A complete list of “life-sustaining” and “non-life-sustaining” business categories was posted by state Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, on his legislative Facebook page. Struzzi, state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, and other area lawmakers each have been seeking to help constituents obtain waivers to allow their businesses to continue.
Meanwhile, state police said, troopers have been fielding a lot of calls at the Greensburg station in Westmoreland County, regarding businesses that are not complying with the shutdown.
However, in Indiana County, Greenfield said, “I was advised by (station commander) Lt. (Joseph) Loughran that so far (Monday) we’ve received ‘very few’ reports of non-compliant non-life-sustaining businesses. I’m not aware of any enforcement action having been taken so far.”
In fact, Greenfield said, troopers are out on patrol just as they always are.
“We are not ‘patrolling’ for non-compliant businesses,” Greenfield stressed. “We also want the community to know that our field operations continue to remain largely the same. We are continuing to patrol and respond to emergency and non-emergency calls for service just as always.”
Greenfield said troopers have the option to issue a warning instead of a citation, “and we are doing all that we can to encourage voluntary compliance.”
Or as Evanchick put it, “troopers and liquor control officers will make every effort to achieve voluntary compliance by educating business owners and using discretion when appropriate. But our message is clear: COVID-19 is a serious health and public safety risk that requires an extraordinary response from law enforcement and the public.”
Greenfield said calls suggesting violations should not be made to the Indiana County Emergency Management Agency’s 911 number, but rather to the state police number in White Township, (724) 357-1960.
Also, Greenfield said, “if the business would be in an area where another police department has primary jurisdiction then the violation should be reported to them.”
Within Indiana borough limits, for instance, that would be Indiana Borough Police Department, at (724) 349-2121.
So far, IBPD has not received any complaints, Chief Justin Schawl said. “We are prepared should we receive any.”
Schawl said his officers also would use discretion when it comes to enforcing the governor’s edict.
“We remain committed to being a great partner to Indiana Borough businesses as we navigate this moment of time together,” Schawl said.
Evanchick said the governor has directed state police as well as the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and state departments of Health and Agriculture, and local officials within their jurisdictions, to enforce the closure orders to the full extent of the law.
“We do need businesses to understand the seriousness of the situation,” Greenfield said. “And we appreciate all those who have followed the guidance and directives of Gov. Wolf.”