OK, so Georgia’s beaches are open, but everyone is instructed to stay home and keep a safe distance from each other.
That is, unless you are exercising or shopping or picking up restaurant takeout or performing work that is deemed essential.
If the people of Georgia are confused about the meaning of shelter in place, they are not alone.
“We’re still working through that,” acting Glynn County Police Chief Jay Wiggins said Monday. “We’re trying to get our hands around exactly what it all means.”
Residents have cause to tread carefully.
“There is a state charge,” said Mark Carson, a sergeant with the law enforcement wing of the state Department of Natural Resources. “It has to do with violating a governmental order — in this case it would be the shelter in place order.”
Basically, the order means everyone should stay home: no public gatherings.
When venturing into public becomes necessary, it means observing social distancing guidelines — 6 feet apart or better and avoiding contact with folks in the general public.
State and county law enforcement agencies share a role in making sure shelter in place guidelines are enforced.
But enforcement is a strong word, said Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump, one of those empowered with ensuring local compliance to the governor’s orders. Jump said Monday that he is more interested in reinforcing local folks’ understanding of the importance of observing the order than he is in forcing folks to comply.
“The order is self-explanatory as far as what people should do,” Jump said. “I’m not going to have my guys stopping cars and telling people to go home. What kind of country are we living in for that to happen? People need to understand that it’s important that they stay in place. Keep your 6-foot rule and wash your hands.”
The main duty of the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office is to operate the county jail and provide security for the county courthouse.
After outlining the shelter in place edict on Friday, Gov. Kemp announced that the sheriff in each county will be the arbiter of compliance. The governor’s office amended that Saturday to include support from county police where applicable. State law enforcement agencies such as the Georgia State Patrol, the DNR and the Department of Public Safety also are responsible for overseeing the shelter in place order.
“As the sheriff of Glynn County, I would expect the people who elected me to stand firm on the rules that our governor has put in place,” Jump said. “The last thing we want to do is put someone in jail. That’s not accomplishing anything. If we get a call of large groups of people gathering, we’re going to go out and talk with them and try to educate them.”
The standard issue Dodge Chargers driven by the county sheriff’s office were prominent on local roadways this weekend, from the St. Simons Island beachfront to western county locales. Folks can go to the beach for exercise only, according to the governor’s office. That means keep moving, Jump said.
A couple of folks tried to carry beach chairs onto the beach Saturday. Friendly reminders about the need for compliance with the shelter in place guidelines were all that was needed, he said.
“We had two cases Saturday, people trying to carry chairs on to the beach,” Jump said. “We educated them about the reason the governor has allowed the beaches to remain open. They said no problem and went back to their cars and put their chairs up.”
State troopers have had similar experiences, said Sgt. Brian Screws of the Georgia State Patrol’s Brunswick Post. Troopers responded to a few calls from concerned citizens over the weekend, including one involving a pickup basketball game. Troopers explained that basketball exceeded the social distancing guidelines for safe exercise, and the players dispersed obligingly.
“When people call and say there’s a large gathering somewhere, we are the agency that’s primarily responsible for answering those calls,” Screws said. “We’re reminding people of the executive order and trying to gain voluntary compliance. We’ve had a few calls, but people have been compliant.”
State DNR vehicles joined the patrol of local beaches Saturday, Carson said.
DNR officers also are checking state parks, state historic sites and wildlife management areas to ensure people observe the order.
“Everybody’s working together, and the public seems to be cooperating,” Carson said. “There have been no serious issues that we’ve seen yet. Most people are complying with the order.”
The county police department is eager to lend its support to state agencies that are monitoring the order, Wiggins said. But he is glad to have those state law enforcement agencies in place in a time like this.
Arrests have dropped significantly in the last couple of weeks as restrictions on public mobility increase, Glynn County Detention Center daily booking records indicate. But the county police department still has an obligation to make local law enforcement its primary objective, he said.
“These are unusual times and we are having to make day to day changes to the way we do our jobs,” Wiggins said. “We are working very closely with our state partners to help support their mission. But even with all this going on, there are still the normal law enforcement things that we have to handle day in and day out.”