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Stay-at-home violations not for law enforcement to deal with

MORRISON – No one in Whiteside County will be cited or arrested for violating Gov. JB Pritzker's stay-at-home order, Sheriff John Booker said Saturday.

The order is in place for at least 2 more weeks, and with a rising number of people seeking to get around it, the governor took a stance this week that law officers will be fining and arresting people who violate it – and if they don't, they also will face the consequences.

Not so fast, Booker said.

Enforcing the order, "that's more of a judicial thing than a law enforcement order, I believe, the way I interpret it, as it's interpreted in Whiteside County," he said. "It's a very gray area, and it needs to be settled in the courtroom, not in a sheriff's office or a police department."

So far, his department has handled only a few issues, and they were solved by persuasion, Booker said.

Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle took to Facebook on Thursday to make his position clear: His office also will not fine or arrest any individuals and business owners violating the stay-at-home order.

VanVickle said he fielded calls this week from area pastors asking if he’ll arrest them if people gather for church services.

“As a constitutional officer, I never expected to take a call like that in my career,” he said.

His post came after the Illinois Sheriff’s Association said on its Facebook page that the Democratic governor's idea of punishment is “outrageous" and "insulting,” and that he did not consult with the association before making his remarks.

VanVickle is on the ISA executive board.

The association did not take well the threat of retaliation from the governor's office.

“Apparently, these consequences now include the threat of litigation and loss of funding, including funding that has been designated through the Federal Cares Act that was designated to units of local government,” the ISA statement said.

“Illinois sheriffs have been elected by their local citizens to keep their communities safe, a trust that every sheriff and sworn law enforcement officer holds dear. It is outrageous that the governor is threatening retaliation against these leaders and the men and women of their offices.

"He is insulting heroic police officers, corrections officers and local voters.”

VanVickle said his office will continue to stress that people practice social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask when social distancing is not possible.

“I am in no way advising you to defy the order currently in place,” VanVickle said. “I’m explaining how the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office views the current order. Individuals holding professional licenses should consider potential revocation if they defy the governor’s order.”

That said, the order is not a law, and so there is no mechanism in place to charge, arrest or fine someone who violates it, he said.

Lee County Sheriff John Simonton could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Booker is a Democrat, VanVickle a Republican.

“The response from sheriffs has been bipartisan,” VanVickle said. “It’s not a political issue.”

The ISA has reached out to the governor’s office for clarification on this issue and more, but received no response, he said.

“It gets us to where we’re at today. People are confused. This could have been avoided,” VanVickle said.

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