Local leaders choose not to take punitive approach with emergency orders

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Municipal authorities have the option to issue new fines for violations of the state’s coronavirus-related emergency orders, but local leaders say they are choosing education over punitive measures.

Gov. Ned Lamont said on Sept. 16 that the state’s 169 towns and cities will have discretion to issue infraction citations for violations of a mask wearing mandate and attendance limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

“It is totally up to them,” he said.

Lamont issued an executive order on Sept. 15 that authorized fines of $100 for violating mask orders, $500 for organizing events that exceed size limits and $250 for attending events that exceed size limits.

Previously, violators of his emergency orders could be only charged criminally for a misdemeanor or felony offense. An infraction is not a criminal offense, and people have the option of paying a fine or contesting the citation in court.

Lamont said local authorities now can decide to issue warnings, cite violators for infractions or arrest individuals on a misdemeanor charge of violating his emergency declarations.

Lamont decided to offer the option of imposing a lesser penalty because local officials were reluctant to make misdemeanor arrests because a conviction carries the possibility of a $1,000 fine or a one-year jail sentence.

Local municipal leaders, though, say they are choosing not to issue fines.

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the borough has been doing well so far and officials will continue operating as they have been without issuing fines.

“We believe that education, persuasion and using logic and common sense is a better approach than fines,” Hess said.

Naugatuck Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister said the department hasn’t issued any infractions or taken any enforcement action regarding violations of the emergency orders.

“The department still takes the approach that education is the most effective way to ensure compliance with the public health measures,” McAllister said.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said the town doesn’t police the people through fines. He added people are cognizant of the rules.

“People are adhering to the masks,” Chatfield said. “People are coherent of what the rules and regulations are.”

Chatfield said police are making public announcements at sporting events about wearing masks. He added the town has also removed bleachers from town fields.

“What I observe around town myself, people are paying attention,” Chatfield said.

Prospect police aren’t issuing any fines, according to Chatfield.

“Everyone is fully aware of what’s going on,” Chatfield said.

Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith said police in town haven’t issued any fines and the town hasn’t designated anyone to do so.

“I think unless it’s an outright disregard of the general population, I would think it’s going to be a self-policing kind of thing,” Smith said.

Smith said he’s hoping and praying that he doesn’t have to issue fines.

“I hope people exercise good judgment,” Smith said. “If not, then we have to jump in. I only see us doing that in rare, extreme cases.”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.