Officers educate regarding COVID-19 orders, avoid citations

By R. Hans Miller | Times Senior Reporter
Posted 4/21/20

Katy area law enforcement agencies say they have not seen a great deal of activity when it comes to residents and businesses violating the stay home orders in effect in Harris, Fort Bend and Waller …

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Officers educate regarding COVID-19 orders, avoid citations

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Katy area law enforcement agencies say they have not seen a great deal of activity when it comes to residents and businesses violating the stay home orders in effect in Harris, Fort Bend and Waller Counties, agency representatives said. Most of the violations seen have taken communication and education on the orders so that people understand the orders and their purpose.

We’re just informing people of what they should be doing,” said Jeff McShan, public information officer for Harris County Constable for Precinct 5 Ted Heap’s office. “We’re not issuing citations or anything like that.”

McShan said that, while he didn’t have a number of calls received regarding stay home order violations, there were not very many in the precinct and all of them could be dealt with through education which leads to compliance with the Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s order which was initially issued March 24. McShan said helping and educating residents regarding the orders was what the department was focused on.

Today we were handing out masks,” McShan said. “We had lines a quarter-mile long, maybe longer –  half a mile – at two locations where we gave out masks, gloves, sanitizer and some (safety) tips, so that was very successful.”

McShan said the precinct had distributed more than 3,000 of those kits at Katy Park in downtown Katy and Bear Creek Park near the intersection of Bear Creek Drive and Clay Road.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office responded to a Katy Times inquiry with a brief statement indicating the county’s constables’ offices were the law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing the Harris County order.

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith said his deputies have only seen between six and ten instances of violations since the Waller County Judge Trey Duhon’s order went into effect March 25. In each of those, simple education has fixed the issues, he said.

 Smith said his office, which is part of the task force set up to ensure compliance with the Duhon’s order, has an officer on each shift armed with copies of the document. When a call comes in, the deputy goes to the scene of the complaint and educates the resident or business owner regarding why the order was put in place, how the individual is violating the order – if they are – and leaves once compliance with the order has been established.

Smith said he was happy with Waller County residents’ and businesses’ responses to the COVID-19 orders. Even one mother that had a crawfish boil to celebrate her son’s senior year of school shut down the event as soon as the situation was explained to her.

“We’ve had no pushback of any kind,” Smith said.

Fort Bend County Constable for Precinct 3 Wayne Thompson said he has been having his deputies refer all violations of County Judge KP George’s order, which also went into effect March 24, to him to handle personally.

“I don’t like sending my deputies to do it because these are people that they also shop from and they get food from and I hate to have them shut a business down, you know,” Thompson said. “And they probably know the person better than I do. So I generally try to handle those complaints myself and I always give them an opportunity to comply voluntarily and so far, every place that I have visited and explained the rules to them, they have done that.”

Thompson said that, while business owners have generally tried to explain somehow that their business is essential, the business owners know they’re not even in a gray area of the order and are just desperate to keep their businesses operating, which he understands. There are a variety of businesses the order doesn’t allow to remain open, he said, and he understand people are trying to make a living.

“It’s been pretty random so I’ve had everything from a barbeque pit company to a Relax the Back store and yesterday I went to a CBD dispensary, so I think I’ve got them all covered,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he was concerned that children have been found playing with neighbors from other households because that violates the order and can lead to groups larger than ten. Golfing is ok, he added, as long as social distancing is practiced, and golfers don’t go into clubhouses or clump up in groups.

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said his officers were not ticketing anyone during what he said is a difficult time already. Like other offices in the area, his department is focused on education and helping citizens rather than issuing fines.

“We’re not citing people for (violating the order), but for the most part the people of Fort Bend County are complying to the order,” Nehls said. “It’s a difficult time out there and the last thing I need to be doing is harassing people and we’re not doing that. I think people are doing a fantastic job as it relates to heeding the warnings and taking the advice of the CDC.”

Katy Police Chief Noe Diaz echoed the other law enforcement officers’ regarding residents and businesses being compliant with the order. There had been reports of children or young adults gathering at a baseball field, but those matters were resolved without incident, Diaz said.

“As always, the health and safety of our community is a paramount concern of ours and is especially more so during this pandemic,” Diaz said. “We will continue to work diligently to ensure compliance with the measures in place to contain this virus, and we are grateful for the continued efforts of our community to keep Katy healthy.”

Author's note: This story has been updated to incorporate information from Katy PD.

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