LOWVILLE — Lewis County Sheriff Michael P. Carpinelli said his deputies won’t be patrolling county bars to enforce state social distancing and mask mandates, despite a request from the governor to do just that.
During a press briefing last Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asked local governments to help enforce social distancing, mask compliance and other restrictions on restaurants and bars. The request comes as eateries across the state have been caught violating those regulations.
According to Executive Order 202.52, which went into effect July 17, restaurants and bars with the ability to serve alcohol cannot sell it unless it is being served with food. According to the text of the order, the intended goal is to prevent the “congregating and mingling that arise in a bar service/drinking only environment.”
This order dovetails with many other executive orders issued over the last five months, requiring that restaurants, bars and other businesses space customers out by six feet, limit capacity to half of normal, that all staff wear masks while working and that patrons wear masks while not seated.
Speaking with the Times on Tuesday, Sheriff Carpinelli said that the state should be enforcing its own regulations, and local law enforcement shouldn’t be used to enforce public health mandates.
“To me, it’s not a criminal crisis, it’s a health crisis,” he said. “Why should the police be enforcing a health crisis?”
Sheriff Carpinelli said that these executive orders are not laws, and therefore he is not required to enforce them as a law enforcement officer.
“It’s not a law,” he said. “A law is voted upon by the people through the Senate in Albany and then signed by the governor, not just an executive order; that does not make any edict that he puts out an automatic law.”
He equated the coronavirus to the influenza virus, and said that he has never enforced any rules or regulations when it comes to outbreaks of the flu.
On March 3, the state Legislature voted to approve sweeping emergency powers for the governor, granting him the ability to issue directives to respond to the disaster, as well as change existing laws to suit the pandemic response. These emergency powers will last until April 30, 2021, or until the Legislature votes to revoke them. A recent bid by state Senate Republicans to end those powers died when Democrats rejected the proposal.
Gov. Cuomo declared a disaster emergency March 7 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Article 2-B, section 29-a of the law passed March 3 by the Legislature, the governor has the ability to declare a statewide emergency and then temporarily suspend or modify statutes, local laws, ordinances, orders, rules and regulations if they would prevent, hinder or delay necessary action to address the emergency.
Sheriff Carpinelli said that, even if he were willing to enforce the governor’s orders, he still hasn’t received any guidance on how to go about enforcing those rules.
“The governor’s office really never talks to us,” he said. “The governor’s office never communicates with the sheriffs, that’s no secret.”
Even if he did have guidance from the state on how to enforce the orders, the sheriff says he wouldn’t have the manpower to do it.
“We don’t have the resources, I can say that right now,” Sheriff Carpinelli said. “I don’t have the manpower, many rural sheriffs’ agencies don’t have the manpower, because we’re not given the manpower.”
His suggestion is that state police and officials take on the enforcement of these mandates.
“If this is a state edict, then use the state police,” the sheriff said. “They sent troopers down to New York City, why don’t you send some from the state to help our rural communities if that’s where the need is?”
The sheriff, who has announced his intention to run for governor in 2022, criticized local and state leaders for pushing the enforcement of these statutes onto local law enforcement, saying it was hypocritical for them to do so.
“It’s awful hypocritical for our state leaders and some of our local leaders to push that down upon the sheriff’s office or any police municipality to do a job that they don’t want to do,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to, they don’t want to be the unpopular people.”