POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – For the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, Polk County officials will soon have to enforce a stay-at-home order.
Prior to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide executive order concerning non-essential services was announced Wednesday, Polk County did not have any stay-at-home orders in place.
“I see some of these stories around the country – where you kind of have like, someone steps out and someone wants to get them arrested. At some point, you do need to exercise good judgment,” said Gov. DeSantis about his expectations for enforcement.
The order goes into effect Friday at 12:01 a.m.
Polk County and Lakeland law enforcement officials want to focus on educating the public, rather than making arrests.
“We just ask them to work in partnership with us and let’s all get through this,” said Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia.
Garcia has assigned officers from various units to enforce the stay-at-home order.
“We’ll have them out in a high-visibility patrol, informing folks of the order and helping them understand if they haven’t been able to read and understand it already on their own,” he said.
But if there’s repeated non-compliance, his officers will take action. Violating the order is a second-degree misdemeanor.
“I would not want to be the guy that was found the second time violating the order,” he said.
Officers will also patrol parks and recreation areas set to close Thursday at midnight, including Lake Hollingsworth Trail and Munn Park.
“Honestly I feel like they should have done it a lot sooner,” said Monlanta Collier, who was in Munn Park Thursday afternoon. “They shouldn’t have waited this long. If they wouldn’t have waited this long, I feel like more people would be safer. It wouldn’t have spread so fast.”
“We have to be overbearing in order to get some people’s attention,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Judd urges people to follow the guidelines for the greater good, by staying in groups fewer than 10 people.
“We will have to be really forced into a situation to make an arrest. We will do everything we can to avoid arresting people. We’ll work with them. We’ll coach them,” he said.
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- Florida in Phase Two of reopening
- Cases have spiked in past week, Gov. DeSantis says due to increased testing
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