Local Law Enforcement Explains Strategies For Shelter-In-Place
Boyer, Kent, Knudsen Chime In
The recent stay-at-home order from Governor Steve Bullock and quarantine orders from county boards of health have prompted some area residents to speculate about local enforcement strategies and related policies for area law enforcement agencies.
Roosevelt County Attorney Austin Knudsen responded to questions via social media March 27: “Roosevelt County citizens: County leaders have received many questions regarding the Governor’s latest ‘Stay at Home Directive.’ While it is true that we are facing a public health emergency the likes of which we have not seen in over 100 years, I remind you that the Montana and U.S. Constitutions are still in place. You do not need a letter stating that you are an essential employee to excuse you for traveling. Law enforcement still needs particularized suspicion that a crime has occurred before they can stop you.”
Knudsen added, “What we do ask is that county residents exercise some Montana COMMON SENSE. Wash your hands. Cover your mouth. Don’t congregate. Don’t travel unnecessarily. Keep an eye on the elderly in our communities. Support your local businesses, which may be struggling at this time. Basically, be a decent neighbor.”
Contacted April 3, Knudsen confirmed his statements and added that illegal stops and/or arrests carry the possibility significant civil liability for municipalities and law enforcement agencies in the future.
Valley County Sheriff Tom Boyer told the Northern Plains Independent that his deputies are not stopping travelers on suspicion of violating stay-at-home and quarantine orders. In a statement for media, Boyer said, “The Valley County Sheriff’s Office will not be unlawfully stopping citizens to ask where they are going or to ask for proof that their travel is essential. Currently, the county is open, including all roads and highways.”
Boyer also cited the protection of civil liberties as a high priority for the department.
“The Valley County Sheriff’s Office is committed to serving all citizens by ensuring the safety and protection of people and property. All freedoms guaranteed under the U.S. and Montana constitutions will continue to be upheld.”
Sgt. Jeff Kent with the Montana Highway Patrol echoed sentiments from other area agencies.
“We’ve had direction from headquarters,” said Kent. “We are not stopping people to check on what they’re doing or where they’re going.”
Representatives from the Glasgow and Wolf Point police departments confirmed that their officers aren’t stopping people to check for violations of shelter-in-place orders.
Fort Peck Tribes Law Enforcement has a special curfew in place for tribal members. The curfew, 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, applies to enrolled tribal members associated with all recognized tribal groups in the country. Attempts to contact the agency at press time were unsuccessful.
Gov. Bullock activated the Montana National Guard April 1 to assist with health screening at some airports and Amtrak stations. Sgt, Jourdan Hoops-Lovan, a guardsman currently stationed at the Amtrak station in Wolf Point, said they are asking travelers to participate in screening efforts on a voluntary basis only. “We’re just Montanans helping Montanans,” said Hoops-Lovan.