Law enforcement: "We will not be kicking in doors," making random stops for 'Safer at home' order

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CENTRAL WISCONSIN, Wis. (WSAW) -- While the enforcement of Governor Tony Evers' 'Safer at home' order effective Wednesday morning is in the hands of local law enforcement, it's not likely officers and deputies in Central Wisconsin will begin pulling vehicles over or making random stops for the exclusive purpose of checking compliance, multiple law enforcement officials say.

Wausau police chief Ben Bliven talked with NewsChannel 7 on Tuesday afternoon about enforcement of the order, saying he had already been in discussion with the Marathon County district attorney regarding its enforcement.

"I want to put people's minds at ease. We aren't out there looking to arrest people and put people in jail for this type of violation. That is the furthest thing from the truth. We want people to comply, yes. We have the ability to enforce it, yes. But that isn't our intention, to run around and write tickets or arresting people," Bliven said.

According to the order, the punishment for non-compliance is up to 30 days imprisonment, a $250 fine, or both.

"That is something that we may use, but it is our hope to not have to use that at all," Bliven said.

Tuesday afternoon, all law enforcement agencies in Marathon County attended a virtual meeting with the Marathon County DA. Gramza said that the consensus was the same among all departments in the county: A letter isn't needed, and officers and deputies won't be stopping people randomly to check compliance.

But ultimately, officials everywhere are urging the public to comply with the order, stay home outside of essential activities, and come together as a community to help beat the spread of COVID-19.

"We are begging you to take this serious," Gramza wrote.

Do I need a letter proving I'm an essential worker?

While the governor's order does not explicitly state whether or not a "letter" or permit is required to be out and about, Gov. Evers clarified to reporters in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that residents do not need special permission to leave their homes.

Bliven told NewsChannel 7 that a letter wasn't necessarily useful for his officers if they needed to check on compliance.

"A letter in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot to us in law enforcement, because you still can be in violation, even if you have possession of that letter," Bliven noted, saying that a letter.

Marshfield police chief Rick Gramza stated on the Marshfield Police Department Facebook page that "We are not requiring you to carry a permit or letter from your employer telling us you are an essential worker," adding that he was only speaking for law enforcement agencies in Marathon and Wood counties.

"Let's take a breath people," a post on the Merrill Police Department Facebook page reads. "We are not checking for "Travel Papers" or "Travel Authorization". That is a myth and does not exist here."

Will law enforcement begin making random stops to check compliance?

It could depend on what jurisdiction you're operating in, but in Marathon County and Marshfield, the short answer is no.

"We need reasonable suspicion to stop somebody, just like we always have. We aren't going to be stopping people randomly to check to see what they're doing and where they're going," Bliven told NewsChannel 7. "I don't believe this governor's order gives us that ability just to randomly stop people."

Gramza took it another step on the MPD Facebook page. "We will not be kicking in doors if we think you are open for business and should not be," he wrote. "We will not be making random traffic stops to learn your business or travel destination."

The Merrill Police Department also asked people to read the order in full. "We can't possibly answer every scenario based question regarding the obedience of the latest Emergency Order #12," the Facebook post noted. Click here to read that order.

The officials quoted in this article speak for their own departments, but do not necessarily reflect the policies of other law enforcement agencies.