OP police chief says city will take ‘low-key approach’ to enforcing JoCo COVID-19 restrictions

Johnson County mask order

Overland Park Monday agreed to let Johnson County enforce its recent COVID-19 health order imposing restrictions on businesses. File photo. 

Overland Park Monday became one of the first cities to agree to let the county enforce its recent health order imposing restrictions on businesses. The 9-3 vote means that the city police department will field complaints and attempt to educate business owners on the health order.

The city would also provide information about the call to the county code enforcers, who could ultimately decide to pursue up to a $500 fine if the business did not change its ways.

The county health order and its enforcement apply only to businesses and are mostly concerned with hours of operation, gathering size and distancing. The wearing of masks is part of statewide order and is enforced separately through the district attorney’s office.

The enforcement rule proved controversial and sparked hours of public objections when it was discussed last month at the county commission. But its reception during the Overland Park meeting was milder. Only one speaker addressed it during the remote meeting, saying she supports the wearing of masks.

Councilmembers question $500 fines, city’s burden to ensure compliance

Some council members had questions, though.

After hearing from Police Chief Frank Donchez that law officers will take a non-confrontational, educational approach to erring business owners, Councilmember Scott Hamblin said the contract asks too much of the city.

Hamblin was concerned that city police would spend time creating a cooperative relationship with business owners only to have to turn things over to over-enthusiastic codes officials. Also, the city would not be reimbursed for its trouble with any of the fine revenue, he said.

“I’m a mask wearer, I believe in science, I don’t mean to make this political. I’m just saying this contract and what we’re giving up and what it’s asking from us and they keep the money it’s not acceptable,” Hamblin said.

Councilmember Tom Carignan also disagreed with the addition of fines into the enforcement, although he said he supports public health and education on health measures.

Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez said officers will take an educational and non-confrontational approach to ensuring compliance with Johnson County’s COVID-19 restrictions. Screenshot via Overland Park YouTube account.

Councilmember Faris Farassati also said he struggled with the burden being placed on city police. But he said he’d support it if the question was about the hours of operation, rather than the masks or distancing.

Donchez assured council members that hours would be the department’s emphasis and that officers would not “get into the weeds” on other issues.

“We’re taking a real low-key approach. I’m going to instruct my officers to err on the side of doing less than more,” he said. “We’re just going to note our observations and forward that information.”

Councilmember calls measure ‘appropriate, life saving’

But some other council members said the enforcement measure makes sense. Councilmember Curt Skoog said enforcement is necessary now that the case numbers are surging and hospitals are beginning to fill up.

“Nobody is making money off of this. This is not a revenue opportunity. This is how you create a penalty for somebody who is choosing not to follow regulations,” he said.

“This is common sense, logical, appropriate, life saving and critical for the health of our community,” he said.

Coucilmember Logan Heley said it is unlikely the county enforcers would be motivated by $500 fines, and in any case, the city can terminate the agreement, “if somebody goes wild on these fines.”

“What we get out of this is a safer and healthier community. This is the way that we enforce public health guidelines that keep our community safer and healthier,” Heley said, adding he trusts the officials involved to be reasonable.

Councilmembers Hamblin, Carignan and Chris Newlin voted against the measure.

Also on Monday, the Prairie Village City Council also voted to approve enforcing the county’s pandemic restrictions within its jurisdiction.

The county health order and frequently asked questions are linked here.