Communication Builds Our Community

Police Chief: Use Common Sense to Stay Safer at Home

Lake Wales Police Chief Chris Velasquez is urging residents to use "common sense" when it comes to adhering to the state's recently imposed "safer at home" mandates.

But, city officials warn, enforcement of those guidelines will become more strict if the public ignores them.

"We're doing everything we can to educate, and encourage the community to stay at home. It's really just a matter of using good common sense," Velasquez said. "There are statutes that are in effect that would allow us to make arrests if necessary, but we don't want to do that. No law enforcement agency wants to do that, but we need to get people to comply with the Governor's executive order and stay at home. We're going to use discretion, and our officers will do that as they've always done."

City Manager Ken Fields echoed those thoughts, saying the goal is to find a balance between allowing people to use the city's still open bike trail, for example, but not bunching together when doing so.

"We're not going to start arresting people. We're going to encourage people not to congregate. We're reminding them. We're trying to use persuasion, we don't want to be heavy handed about this," noted Fields. "Everybody's nerves are a little up. So we're trying to make our police more visible in parks and where people congregate on a regular basis. We're all learning as we go along."

He added, however, that the city wouldn't tolerate those ignoring safer-at-home guidelines forever.

"If we have to get more aggressive about large gatherings, we will do so," he said. "It doesn't require any specific legal action at this point. The governor's emergency order and the city's emergency order give us the authority that we need."

He also encouraged citizens to report any groups of people that weren't practicing social distancing rules.

"When we have people help us identify where there are people gathering, it gives is the heads up. We can't be everywhere at once. So if citizens do report that to us we will take action and monitor those places in the future," Fields said.

The city's police force has been hit with quarantines, official noted, but that staffing continues to be at normal levels.

"We're making sure we are maintaining our full strength out on the street. We are down officers because of quarantine, but we've authorized overtime to make sure we can keep our full complement," Fields added.


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