NJ police chief refuses to send cops to enforce minor pandemic violations
HOWELL — Chief Andrew Kudrick says his police officers will not respond to mask-wearing and social-distancing complaints unless they are "egregious."
The chief's memo was issued a week before Thanksgiving in response to an executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people as coronavirus cases again flare up here and around the country.
New Jersey hospitalizations were up to more than 2,500 patients on Thursday, the most since the end of May. Hospitals also have been reporting a dozen to two dozen deaths a day lately, up from the mostly single-digit daily death totals over the summer and early fall.
On Thursday, the Trump administration's coronavirus task force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention beseeched Americans to not travel for the holidays or spend time with people outside their households
Murphy has not specified how the indoor gathering mandate would be enforced but officials, including the superintendent of the State Police, have said that they are relying on the public to do the right thing.
Kudrick's memo said officers will not respond to any report of social distancing or mask violations except for "egregious violation such as a packed house party."
The chief said he is not defying Murphy's orders as he believes everyone has to do their park to end the 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,” Kudrick says in the memo to department employees.
Kudrick wrote that if political events are exempt from the latest executive orders about gatherings, "then family and friends should be permitted to gather with equal consideration."
Ocean County Scanner News was first to post the memo. Howell police spokesman John Yurgel on Friday morning did not immediately return a message from New Jersey 101.5. but told NJ.com that police would not actively look for violations and would decide on a "case by case basis" how to respond.
Murphy said during his coronavirus briefing on Friday that he does not know Kudrick but stressed that his executive orders are in place to save lives.
“I have no idea who this guy is but I would just say it is the obligation of all members of law enforcement, especially leadership, to enforce the laws and enforce the executive orders that are in place particularly if the objective is to save every life that we can,” Murphy said. “These executive orders are about saving people’s lives and folks need to be reminded of that.”
Murphy praised law enforcement as being “heroic” during the pandemic for enforcing compliance with the orders during the past nine months while putting their own health at risk especially while dealing with "extreme knuckleheads."
Howell police broke up a house party with 500 people in August with a DJ, private security and private cabanas.
N.J. State Policemen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Colligan told New Jersey 101.5 that the Kurdrick's memo struck a good balance. He joked that no SWAT teams will be coming through the doors at Thanksgiving.
"We're still going to have to respond to those calls and I'm sure some neighbors having neighbor disputes are going to call on each other but I think it was a good balance of common sense policing and keeping our citizens safe," Colligan said.
Colligan said that law enforcement is recovering from the issues related to the murder of George Floyd by officers while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
"It's been difficult to balance our responses and how our officers react or respond to calls. We're being damned for the actions of a few and it's been a tough balance. COVID has not made it any easier. We're still responding to every call for service; we don't have the option to call in sick or policing via Zoom," Collgan said.
Colligan said that if a dispute arises with a neighbor, think twice before calling police to settle things.
"It's Thanksgiving. Put a smile on your face and try not to involve the police in your neighbor dispute because it's going to be a tough day all around," Colligan said.