13WHAM, Albany, N.Y. – The New York State Sheriffs’ Association is responding to comments made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding enforcement of COVID-19 safety regulations.
During a news conference Monday, the governor announced several new yellow and orange zone designations, some in upstate and western New York.
When asked about local police agencies enforcing safety guidelines for private gatherings, and those which say they will not be actively doing so, Cuomo alleged they were acting in a politically-motivated manner and failing to follow through with their duties.
“You have sheriffs upstate who have said ‘I’m not going to enforce the law’. How a law enforcement officer says ‘I choose not to enforce that law’, I believe that law enforcement officer violates his or her constitutional duty," said Cuomo. "I don’t consider them a law enforcement officer, because you don’t have the right to pick laws that you think that you’ll enforce, and you don’t enforce laws that you don’t agree with. That’s not a law enforcement officer; that’s a dictator.”
In a statement Monday, the Sheriffs’ Association pushed back against the governor’s comments. It says agencies have responded to thousands of complaints since the onset of the pandemic, and it believes the best approach is to educate the public about health mandates and encourage that they be followed.
It argues that the governor’s instructions can’t be practically enforced and that he should be encouraging citizens to voluntarily follow health officials’ guidance.
“We do not know if the governor’s limit on home gatherings to ten individuals is the right number or not,” the organization’s statement read. “That is a decision for science, not us, to make. We do know, however, that the governor has attempted to foist upon local law enforcement an impossible task. How are officers to know, without violating citizens’ right to privacy and other Constitutional rights, how many people are in the home? How are they to determine if the family gathering is to be deemed “essential” or “nonessential”? If twelve people normally reside in the home, are the officers to order two of them to move out? If eleven individuals are found to be present in the home, who is to be charged with violating the order, all eleven or just the last guest to arrive? Or is it only the homeowner who is in violation? Are officers really supposed to arrest guests who don’t stay six feet apart or who fail to have on their face masks during dinner? All of those are serious questions which make it impossible for law enforcement to know how to legally enforce the governor’s order. They are questions that could have been addressed if we had a functioning State Legislature, creating clear and enforceable laws after input from those who would be impacted by them. Instead we are faced with an unenforceable dictate issued without any consultation with law enforcement or the public as to enforceability.”
The Sheriff’s Association urges citizens to follow health officials’ guidance and limit potential exposure to the virus as much as possible.
“We in law enforcement do not have the resources nor the legal authority to force you to do these things,” the association said. “It is a matter of individual responsibility and we are confident that you will all voluntarily rise to the occasion.”
13WHAM has reached out to the governor’s office for comment.