County law enforcement agencies continue to serve in trying times
While many San Juan County businesses face difficulty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and others are out of work or school, law enforcement agencies county-wide continue to serve and protect.
Though they take steps to abide by social distancing recommendations issued by the state, they continue to provide their essential service to the county.
Both San Juan County Sheriff Jason Torgerson and Monticello Chief of Police Clayton Black report that their departments are less busy than usual this time of year due to a substantial reduction of motorists traveling through the county.
Torgerson says his goal is to try to conduct business as usual but also keep everyone under his authority safe. So far, he has accomplishing that goal.
Sheriff deputies are still responding to law enforcement and public safety calls, but have spent most of their time in recent weeks supporting Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s recent “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive.
The mandate, released on March 27, encourages Utah residents to stay home. They are, however, permitted to visit parks and outdoor recreation areas inside their county of residence.
Torgerson says San Juan County deputies have been educating visitors from outside the county about the governor’s directive and requiring that they leave the county. He reports that most visitors have been compliant and no citations have been issued to this point.
Torgerson emphasized that San Juan County residents are encouraged to recreate outdoors, but need to strictly abide by social distancing and personal sanitation recommendations issued by the state.
Chief Black says though the lack of vacationers and other travelers has been bad for Monticello, it has been good for his department. Officers haven’t had to deal with many speeding issues, which come mostly from out-of-country tourists.
Black says the Monticello Police Department is prepared for COVID-19. Department vehicles are equipped with bottles of hand sanitizer, and now they also have N95 respirators.
In response to the coronavirus, part of officers’ current mission is to keep themselves and their community protected. The main change the Monticello Police Department has made is to limit “voluntary contact,” according to Black.
“We’re mostly responding to things now rather than a lot of the proactive activity that we typically do in the way of traffic enforcement,” he explained.
“When you have voluntary contact with any motorist, you have no idea where that person has been or what they’ve been exposed to.”
Consequently, less traffic stops are being made. Black says no one is taking advantage of that because, simply stated, no one is on the road.
Neither Black nor Torgerson have seen an increase of criminal activity in recent weeks. Two suspects claimed to be infected with COVID-19 when they were confronted by officers, but both claims were determined to be influenced by excessive alcohol intoxication.
One of the main issues Torgerson is currently dealing with is a large volume of calls from people wanting to know if it’s safe to come to San Juan County to stay in vacation rentals.
He emphatically states that they need to stay home. “Stick to the governor’s directive,” he said. “We don’t want non-essential travelers or people recreating in [these] properties.”
Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has also affected operations at the San Juan County Public Safety Building in Monticello. The building was closed on Monday, April 6. Individuals who need to conduct business there will need to call and make an appointment.
Though there’s no issue with overcrowding in the county jail, officials have had to restrict inmate movement by limiting some jail programming. Inmates are distancing as much as possible.
No physical visitation is allowed, but new equipment is being installed that will allow inmates to see visitors via video equipment located in the lobby.
Most of the jail volunteers have been sent home. For the time being, therapists are still able to conduct their work, but they may have to do so from home in the near future.
Most of the current cases that are scheduled to appear in county court have been pushed back pending a reevaluation of the coronavirus situation.
County and city law enforcement agencies have both laid a solid groundwork to keep the communities protected as the COVID-19 outbreak creeps closer and closer to home.
Sheriff Torgerson says, “Hopefully people will respect the governor’s order to stay home, and we can get through this together.”
Chief Black expressed that he wants to “echo the ‘Stay Safe, Stay Home’ order. Take the precautions seriously. We don’t want it hitting us hard here.”