Chief: ‘We the police will not be used to carry out orders I feel are detrimental to our relationship with our community’

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HOWELL, NJ – The police chief in a central New Jersey town has made it clear that his officers will not be used to respond to complaints regarding indoor or outdoor gatherings or perceived noncompliance with social distancing or mask use unless there is “an egregious violation.”

With Thanksgiving around the corner, Howell Police Chief Andrew A. Kudrick Jr. sent a memo to police personnel on Nov. 19 clarifying that his officers will no longer respond to complaints about a lack of facial coverings or masks, lack of social distancing or indoor or outdoor gatherings.

Kudrick also expressed confidence that residents will be responsible in helping to limit the spread of Covid-19.

The chief’s memo was in response to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order No. 196, which lowered indoor and outdoor gathering limits in the state, ahead of the holidays. In the memo, Kudrick wrote:

“You are aware of the latest executive order from the Governor restricting the number of persons allowed for both indoor and outdoor gatherings with a specific focus towards Thanksgiving and the holidays.

If you are not, I strongly encourage you to make yourself aware by visiting the New Jersey COVID-19 Information Hub at https://covid19.nj.gov/index.html.

“We are in difficult times. Our community is hurting. We have seen an increase in mental health issues. People are depressed and stressed.

Businesses are trying to survive. Some have already closed. The holidays and social gatherings bring family and friends together.

“The latest order restricts the number of persons permitted within households and restaurants. From the beginning of this pandemic, we have relied upon our community to be responsible by limiting exposure and spread of this virus.

This will continue without our enforcement intervention.”

Murphy signed the order on Nov. 16, and effective the next day at 6 a.m., the indoor gathering limit was decreased from 25 to 10 people.

The outdoor gathering limit was decreased from 500 people to 150 and became effective on Nov. 23 at 6 a.m.

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In a press release, Murphy said:

“As we have been saying for weeks, this will not be a normal holiday season, and it’s incumbent on all of us to avoid the type of gatherings that have proven to be particularly dangerous places for COVID-19 to spread.

“With the alarming numbers we are seeing right now, we have to take these steps today to preserve and protect public health and to slow the spread of this virus.”

The press release noted that for indoor gatherings, the limit for weddings, funerals, memorial services and religious and political activities is unchanged and limited to 25 percent of the capacity of the room in which the gathering takes place, up to a maximum of 150 individuals.

Indoor sporting competitions and practices are permitted to exceed the 10-person limit only for individuals necessary for the practice or competition, such as players, coaches and referees, but may not exceed 150 individuals.

For most indoor sports, this will mean that there can be no spectators.

Legislative and judicial proceedings are not subject to the indoor gatherings limits.

Regarding outdoor gatherings, the press release indicated that weddings, funerals, memorial services and religious and political activities are not subject to the outdoor gatherings limit. All other types of gatherings, such as a high school football game or an outdoor concert, will be limited to 150 individuals.

Athletes, coaches, referees and other individuals necessary for a professional or collegiate sports competition are not counted towards the 150-person limit.

Outdoor gatherings continue to be subject to strict social distancing restrictions, including the requirement to wear masks whenever it is not possible to social distance.

However, Kudrick’s directive to his staff emphasized that it is not to be misinterpreted as defying the governor’s executive order:

“By no means is this a defiance to the Governor’s orders as I do believe we all have to do our part to end this pandemic. However, we the police will not be used to carry out orders I feel are detrimental to our relationship with our community. Or, will put officers in a no-win predicament such as being called for a social distancing or mask complaint. Although justified in our enforcement, the perception will be the opposite and majority support will be lacking.

“As such, effective immediately we will not accept nor respond to any report of a facial covering/mask, social distancing or indoor/outdoor gathering complaint. The only time we will consider a response would be for an egregious violation such as a packed house party. If these restrictions are exempt for political purposes, then family and friends should be permitted to gather with equal consideration.

“By this directive, I give our telecommunicators broad discretion in assigning a response to a complaint. Supervisory officers may be consulted when a TC may be conflicted. Further, this directive does not restrict an officer from addressing an egregious complaint if observed.”

Kudrick told Law Enforcement Today how a local business was conflicted by the governor’s sudden order. A party of 15 had been reserved at a restaurant in town prior to Murphy’s latest order, but was cancelled to comply with the latest restrictions.

The owner spoke to the chief regarding this situation recently and expressed disappointment about once again losing business. The people who wanted to have the celebration were nervous about the governor’s order, and the owner of the eatery also did not want to violate any orders or put police in an awkward situation of having to respond to a gathering complaint.

After this conversation, Kudrick decided that clarification needed to go out to the police department so that officers knew that they were not going to be peeking into restaurants and surveying how many people were gathered in private parties. He said:

“Small violations like this are not going to be enforced.”

Kudrick also noted that sometimes people call the police department to complain someone is walking in a local store without a mask. The situation can be awkward for the officer and takes time away from other calls for service.

The chief said he issued the memo to provide the department with guidance on how to enforce the executive order concerning social distancing and face masks, especially around the holidays.

Kudrick emphasized no one should interpret the memo as an act of defiance of the governor’s order. Instead, the directive is focused on using common sense and broad discretion when following the governor’s order:

“We’re just going to be a bit more selective.”

While police in Howell will not actively seek out large gatherings on Thanksgiving or other holidays and take a head count, they will respond to situations where it is obvious that there are too many people, such as a pop-up house party that may have hundreds of people in attendance.

House parties popped up throughout the state this past summer, including in Howell and nearby towns. In August, we reported that Howell police responded to a residential home in the Ramtown section, where 300 people were attending a pop-up party that charged admission.

The party was in violation of New Jersey’s ban on indoor gatherings of more than 25 people due to Covid-19 concerns.

The police department posted on Facebook:

“UPDATE: 2008 hours.

“Most of the mutual aid departments have been released. Attendees left without incident. Host was arrested. Further investigation will continue.

“Several patrol units will remain in the area to prevent others from arriving and/or returning and to monitor surrounding streets as there’s been reports of stragglers urinating on people’s property and vehicles.

“A majority of those who attended are not local.

“We thank all for their assistance and patience.

“HEAVY POLICE PRESENCE
“Wilson Drive (Ramtown section)

“Howell Police has requested mutual aid from Wall, Brick, Jackson, Freehold, Monmouth and Ocean County Sheriffs and State Police in response to the dispersal of approximately 300 people in attendance at a ‘pop-up’ party.

“Most of the attendees are compliant. Others are hesitant and are directing their anger towards the host who charged admission.

“Roadways leading to Wilson Drive are blocked by police to prevent the steady flow of vehicles attempting to attend. Only residents will be allowed.

“Further updates will be provided.”

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