The Lodi City Council is asking the Lodi Police Department to refrain from responding to reports of businesses violating stay-at-home orders issued by the state and county.
Councilwoman Joanne Mounce during a Wednesday night meeting said she was under the impression she and her colleagues gave the department direction not to enforce COVID-19 stay-at-home orders on May 6.
However, Mounce learned that someone reported a Downtown Lodi business for operating when it was not supposed to be open on Monday.
“To get a call at dispatch and send retired officers to a call to educate these business owners was not my idea,” Mounce said Wednesday. “What I wanted was that if the county or state wanted these orders enforced, then the sheriff can come in and do that. I don’t want the city using its resources to do any enforcement.”
Chief Sierra Brucia said the two officers sent to the business, which according to call logs from the department is located in the 200 block of South School Street, were not retired, but part-time employees of the department.
The call log indicated that responding officers advised an employee and provided him or her with documentation of the orders issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Joaquin County Public Health Services.
“We receive several calls for service about businesses who may or may not be violating the orders,” Brucia told the council.
“Our response has been to send part-time employees down to make sure these businesses understand the consequences for violating these orders. These are our friends and businesses we all patronize on a daily basis. We want them to be successful and reopen as quickly as possible, just like the community wants.”
Brucia added the department has only had to cite one business for remaining open and that the department’s mission during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders has been one of education, not citation.
Mounce said she favors the department’s approach to strictly educating business owners but suggested dispatch officers instruct callers to contact the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office or direct them to online information provided by San Joaquin County Public Health Services.
She also suggested having Partners units educate businesses about the orders if the department wanted to continue responding to COVID-19 violation calls.
Brucia noted that because the units are volunteers, they cannot be used for enforcement or education of the order. He added members of the Partners are also seniors, the demographic deemed by health experts as most susceptible to COVID-19.
The rest of the council agreed with Mounce, stating officers should be focused on enforcing other crimes occurring around Lodi, including vandalism, disturbances, drugs, thefts and homeless violations.
“I don’t disagree with anything council member Mounce is saying,” Mayor Doug Kuehne said. “I don’t want the city to spend resources on something that isn’t a priority.”
Wednesday’s discussion was part of a report the council received regarding reopening the city for business. The report contained a letter written by Kuehne to Newsom and Dr. Maggie Park, the county’s public health officer, requesting Lodi be given the local control with regard to determining which businesses can reopen and when.
The discussion also comes just a day after Park told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors she was planning to submit a variance for attestation to the state this week that, if approved, could have restaurants open for indoor and outdoor dining by the Memorial Day weekend.
In the meantime, Lodi City Attorney Janice Magdich urged the council not to ignore the orders issued by the state or county.
“To ignore the public health orders could jeopardize reimbursement funds we’re looking to receive from (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the state,” she said. “It could also jeopardize the Great Plates program we just launched, which has been a huge benefit to our homebound seniors.”
Mounce questioned the legality of Newsom’s stay-at-home order, to which Magdich responded the U.S. Constitution allows states to issue such orders in times of public emergencies.
Brucia told the council he would take its suggestion back to the department for consideration.