St. Lawrence County Sheriff responds to Governor Cuomo’s Thanksgiving Executive Order

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CANTON, N.Y. (WWTI) — Law enforcement in the North Country are commented on restrictions recently enacted in New York State in preparation for the holidays.

The St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office released statements on Monday, four days before the Thanksgiving holiday, to address questions regarding holidays restrictions. Specifically, SLC Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe clarified Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent Executive Order that limits “non-essential private residential gatherings” to a maximum of 10 individuals.

Sheriff Bigwarfe stated that this Executive Order has caused concern in local residents and many “envision armed officers arriving at their doors to count the number of people around the Thanksgiving.”

Bigwarfe emphasized that the community would more likely “voluntarily follow [Governor Cuomo’s] recommendations than his orders.”

In response to the Executive Order, Sheriff Brooks Bigwarfe stated the following:

We do not know if the Governor’s limit on home gatherings to ten individuals is the right number or not. 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 6 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.

We believe that rather than issuing orders that cannot be practically enforced, and then blaming law enforcement when they are not enforced, the Governor would better serve the people of New York if he were to use his position to encourage citizens to use common sense and voluntarily adhere to the guidance of state and federal health officials. We would gladly join him in that. We know the citizens of our communities, and we believe they would be far more likely to voluntarily follow his recommendations than his orders.

In conclusion, we urge all our citizens to keep informed on the best steps to take to
protect themselves, and others, from the spread of this terrible disease. We urge
you to listen to our public health officials. We urge you to limit your exposure to
those outside your household as much as you reasonably can. If we all do that, we
will sooner be able to get back to normal. We in law enforcement do not have the
resources nor the legal authority to force you to do those things. It is a matter of
individual responsibility and we are confident that you will all voluntarily rise to the
occasion.

The Lewis County District Attorney Gary Pasqua also responded to SLC Sheriff’s Bigwarfe comments.

“Having reviewed the statement of Sheriff Bigwarfe and the New York State Sheriffs regarding the
Governor’s Executive Order, I fully support their position regarding their concerns regarding the enforcement of this order,” stated Pasqua. “While I agree with Sheriff Bigwarfe’s position, I also believe we all have a personal responsibility to help stop the spread of this terrible disease. I urge the citizens of St. Lawrence County to be smart and vigilant this holiday season with mask wearing, social distancing and personal hygiene.”

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