The pandemic and the ensuing restrictions on people’s everyday actions have led to a new type of incident for law enforcement officials: coronavirus compliance.
Local police and sheriff’s deputies say they haven’t had to arrest anyone for gathering in large groups or going out for non-essential reasons, but they have been receiving at least a call or two a week from people reporting their neighbors and local merchants.
“We haven’t gone out looking for it, but if we get a complaint, we act on it,” said Richard Keith, Morristown police chief. “Basically, it’s been the education part of it.”
The state of Vermont launched an online reporting tool that allows someone to file a complaint against anyone thought to be violating parts of Gov. Phil Scott’s executive order he signed in March, limiting lodging, restaurant and retail operations. The reporting form falls under the purview of Vermont State Police, but the complaints are also passed on to police agencies in charge of covering the areas where the alleged violations happened.
Reports filed with the online tool, acquired by Seven Days and posted on its website, document 271 alleged acts of noncompliance between April 1 and 15. They are redacted, with information that could identify the complainant and the subject of the complaint blacked out — although there are plentiful references to Massachusetts and New York license plates.
“Our concern is that there seems to be a consistent stream of renters, although the executive order states that Airbnbs should be shut down till April 15 at least,” wrote one complainant upon seeing numerous cars with out-of-state plates at an Elmore property. “This is disconcerting to some individuals on the road who are permanent residents here.”
One complaint assigned to Stowe police said simply that an alleged scofflaw “opened a puzzle swapping library.”
Another Stowe report, received April 6, alleged a business owner was threatening employees that she would cut their unemployment if they didn’t come to work.
A complaint against what appears to be a grocery store in Morrisville notes that “cashiers, baggers and people restocking the produce and shelves are not wearing face masks.”
One person even complained about an elderly woman in her 70s or 80s walking her dog in Morrisville, saying, “The way the lady was walking I would say she isn’t a (sic) essential worker.”
Stowe and Morristown led Lamoille County towns in complaints filed with the online tool — seven and six, respectively, in that time frame. There were two complaints in Johnson and one each in Eden, Elmore, Hyde Park and Waterville.
“For us, it’s been practically nonexistent,” said Det. Scott Kirkpatrick of the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department. “I haven’t dealt with a complaint in weeks.”
Fred Whitcomb, detective at the Stowe Police Department, said the department follows up on all of the complaints — “we handle it the exact same way as if a person had called us” — but it takes more time than if someone calls them directly. If people call in, officers can ask follow-up questions and maybe even resolve the issue over the phone.
“It is a little easier when we get a complaint from a citizen, because we can vet it,” Whitcomb said.
Not all the complaints are serious, and some of them include foul language attacking the whole notion. One of them lists the “governor’s office” as the location of a violation, and blames Democrats for “trying to turn citizens against each other.”
That one didn’t have the complainant’s name blacked out, but probably because it was signed “Nunya F Bizness.”