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California sheriffs refuse to enforce Newsom’s COVID restrictions

Nathan Skates /


California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently pulled the “emergency brake” on reopening his state by putting in place new and even more onerous COVID-19 restrictions, including a curfew. But some sheriffs say the administration has gone too far, and this time their offices will not enforce the new orders.


Like other governors, Newsom is going back into lockdown mode after a surge of new COVID-19 cases and an increase in hospitalizations.


“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic, and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge … We are sounding the alarm.”


That alarm includes a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for over 90 percent of the state, but it also means that many small businesses must again shut down; indoor church services are banned; playgrounds, live-audience sports, and family entertainment centers are closed; and even small Christmas gatherings of friends and family are not permitted.


Brian Ferguson, deputy director for crisis communication and public affairs at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said,


“The State COVID-19 Enforcement Taskforce has been in close contact [with] Sheriff’s (sic) and police chiefs across the state. And will continue to work closely with them to implement the order and coordinate strategic, targeted enforcement actions with the goal of adjusting behavior, interrupting dangerous actions and defiance of public health orders, and restoring compliance.”


Many sheriffs do not share his enthusiasm. Before Thanksgiving, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said,


“The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office will not be determining — including entering any home or business — compliance with, or enforcing compliance of, any health or emergency orders related to curfews, staying at home, Thanksgiving or other social gatherings inside or outside the home, maximum occupancy, or mask mandates. Further, we will not dispatch officers for these purposes.”


Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco was more blunt:


“These closures and stay-at-home orders are flat-out ridiculous,” he stated. “The metrics used for closures are unbelievably faulty and are not representative of true numbers, and are disastrous for Riverside County … (Gov. Newsom) is expecting us to arrest anyone violating these orders, cite them and take their money, close their businesses, make them stay in their homes, and take away their civil liberties, or he will punish all of us. While the governor’s office and the state has threatened action against violators, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department will not be blackmailed, bullied, or used as muscle against Riverside County residents in the enforcement of the governor’s orders.”


Bianco also criticized Newsom for his “hypocrisy” for attending a dinner at an expensive restaurant, among other examples. Newsom’s “dictatorial attitude toward California residents, while dining and luxury traveling, keeping his business open and sending his kids to in-person private schools is very telling about his attitude toward California residents, his feelings about the virus, and it is extremely hypocritical,” said Bianco.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes also said he would not bring down the force of law enforcement on law-abiding citizens, releasing a statement that said, in part,


“Compliance with health orders is a matter of personal responsibility and not a matter of law enforcement. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office will remain consistent in our approach. Orange County Sheriff’s deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings, or stay-at-home orders only. Deputies will respond to calls for potential criminal behavior and the protection of life and property. Our actions remain consistent with the protections of constitutional rights.”


Disagreement between politicians and sheriffs in the state is a recurring theme. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently released an order stating, “Subject only to the exceptions outlined in this Order, all persons living within the City of Los Angeles are hereby ordered to remain in their homes.” The order also prohibits travel, including, “without limitation, travel on foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile, or public transit is prohibited,” other than exceptions listed in the order.


Garcetti said it is “time to cancel everything” and asked the Los Angeles Police Department to “vigorously enforce” the order.


Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he would investigate complaints against non-essential businesses but that “voluntary” enforcement is a more favorable option. “We have a lot of options and pretty much on the voluntary compliance side, we get most of our success. If we start scratching paper, there’s consequences that need to follow from that and we don’t want to get to that point,” he said.


COVID-19 restrictions have small business owners feeling dejected. Nail salon owner Michelle Saunders James, who re-opened her business just five weeks ago only to have it closed down again by Newsom’s latest order, said,


“I guess the only option is to cease business. I don’t know what else to do. I am upset. It’s just very hard because we worked so hard to keep everyone safe. We wear shields. We take temperatures. We do everything we are told to do so everyone feels safe, including our staff and team. So I don’t understand why it’s not enough and I’m terribly sad and afraid.”


Kevin Weinberg, co-owner of the Walnut street Yacht club, also seemed despairing, noting, “We can’t just hibernate until this is over.”


Sheriff Barnes did not appreciate calls to enforce an order against law-abiding citizens by politicians who criticize law enforcement. He said,


“To put the onus on law enforcement to enforce these orders against law-abiding citizens who are already struggling through difficult circumstances, while at the same time criticizing law enforcement and taking away our tools to do our jobs is both contradictory and disingenuous.”


These sheriffs and police departments deal with real crime every single day, yet that has not made them cynical to the humanity of regular people. Despite this year’s attacks on their person and their character amid the “defund the police” movement, the police remain committed to protecting and serving the public. Many officials elected by the public, however, lack that kind of empathy. While politicians ignore their own orders and continue to draw a paycheck, they threaten average law-abiding people who are just trying to survive and live their lives the best they can in the midst of a crisis — while also demanding that overworked and underappreciated law enforcement officers go out and perform the unpopular and unsavory job of harassing those same law-abiding citizens.


Rather than mirroring Scrooge and the Grinch during this Christmas season, Newsom and other would-be tyrants might want to think about softening their tone and practicing a little peace and goodwill towards their constituents.


Check out this interview with Sheriff David Clarke on the role of officers during the Coronavirus:

Sheriff David Clarke on Wisconsin Supreme Court Striking Down Governor’s Lockdown – YouTube