With government resources terribly strained these days, it’s understandable that Lewis County Sheriff Michael P. Carpinelli is reluctant to have his deputies enforce safety protocols pertaining to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asked sheriffs to help ensure people were wearing masks at restaurants and bars and following social distancing rules. He has warned businesses that he may reimpose strict lockdown orders if they don’t see that their customers comply. Various regions of the state have begun reopening after several months, and health officials do not want infection rates to start rising again as a result of people being careless.
However, Mr. Carpinelli does not see that it’s his job to put the governor’s executive orders into effect. He compared the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) to influenza viruses and questioned why law enforcement agents should spend their time enforcing state mandates related to it.
“To me, it’s not a criminal crisis; it’s a health crisis. Why should the police be enforcing a health crisis?” he said in a story published Tuesday by the Watertown Daily Times. “It’s not a law. 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.”
Mr. Carpinelli said his office does not have the personnel to fulfill Mr. Cuomo’s request. He added that the governor’s office has a history of poor communication with sheriffs around the state. Rather, Mr. Cuomo should use state troopers to see that people are adhering to his orders, Mr. Carpinelli said.
We appreciate how taxing it is for any law enforcement agency to spend its valuable time driving around its region checking on who’s wearing masks and staying at least 6 feet away from other people when interacting. Under normal circumstances, many police departments have trouble performing all the tasks we ask of them.
But Mr. Carpinelli is wrong on a couple of points. The governor’s executive orders have the effect of law because this power was granted to him in March by the state Legislature.
And likening the coronavirus to the flu recklessly imperils people’s lives. More than 150,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. This is about three times as many people who die annually from the flu — and many more fatalities will occur before the pandemic subsides.
Law enforcement agents are regularly called upon to restore and maintain order among members of the public during natural disasters.
These are not crimes, yet it’s crucial to have police officers on the streets ensuring public safety.
Using sheriff’s deputies to check on how people are complying with coronavirus mandates is difficult yet necessary. Many people have become belligerent toward employees of restaurants, bars and stores who ask them to wear masks. Law enforcement agents carry a great deal of authority, so rebels are less likely to mouth off to a police officer telling them to obey the law.
We get a strong sense that Mr. Carpinelli is listening to woefully misleading voices on the coronavirus and doesn’t believe these orders are necessary. The problem is that if infection rates in Lewis County go up, Mr. Cuomo may order local businesses to close down — this wouldn’t benefit anyone.
Mr. Carpinelli has announced that he will run for governor in 2022. Good for him! But if he wishes to have any chance of success, he must demonstrate that he understands the seriousness of a public health crisis and how to control it.