Damariscotta Police Chief Jason Warlick told the selectmen, during a Zoom meeting Wednesday, April 1, that Gov. Janet Mills’ stay-at-home order presents an opportunity for the department to educate residents about COVID-19 prevention.
“This is an educational opportunity, not an enforcement opportunity,” Warlick said.
The governor’s “stay healthy at home” mandate, which went into effect Thursday, April 2 and is set to expire April 30, prohibits Mainers from leaving their homes for anything but “essential personal activities.”
Such essential activities include grocery shopping obtaining medical care or medication; providing care to another person, a pet, or livestock; outdoor exercise; or working an essential job.
The mandate requires physical distancing of at least 6 feet from any individual when out of the home or at work at an essential business and extends the closure of restaurants and bars for dine-in customers to April 30.
Warlick said he has instructed his officers to watch for clear violations of the governor’s mandate, such as the 6-foot rule; respond to reports of violations; and educate residents about the restrictions and the reasons for them.
“We are not going to go out of our way to mess with people. We will respond when needed. We will take the appropriate actions when we need to. … We want to enforce the governor’s rule, but we want to do it in a way that’s effective for our citizens in Damariscotta,” Warlick said, noting that limiting face-to-face interactions is in the best interest of public health at this time.
The Damariscotta Police Department has several copies of the governor’s order and the list of essential and nonessential businesses available for the public.
Warlick said officers will hand out copies of the executive order to any potential violators of the stay-at-home order, as well as anyone returning to Damariscotta from out of state.
Warlick said the Great Salt Bay Sanitary District has agreed to notify the department whenever a seasonal resident returns and has water service turned on.
This allows an opportunity for the department to educate newly arrived residents about the statewide stay-at-home order and the governor’s recommendation for anyone arriving in Maine to self-quarantine for 14 days, Warlick said.
“Any information I get from any credible source that tells me someone’s coming from away, my goal is to go over there and see how they’re doing and let them know what we’re doing,” Warlick said.
Warlick said that unless the state shuts its borders, the police department cannot prevent people from out of state from coming into town.
The governor’s order also limits the number of people allowed in essential businesses, like grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores, at one time. The occupancy limit depends on the building dimensions.
Warlick said he expects businesses in Damariscotta to voluntarily comply with these restrictions, saying his officers will not forcibly remove people from stores unless absolutely necessary.
Board Chair Robin Mayer said she has witnessed the majority of businesses in Damariscotta and Newcastle already strictly complying with the governor’s orders.
Town Manager Matt Lutkus brought up the possibility of deputization of town police officers by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Todd Brackett, in a letter, said he has the authority to appoint “special deputy sheriffs” in the event of a severe staffing shortage.
Officers from the Boothbay Harbor and Wiscasset police departments and deputies from the Knox and Sagadahoc County sheriff’s offices have already been deputized, according to the letter.
Warlick, Lutkus, and the selectmen agreed that the priority of the Damariscotta Police Department should continue to be the protection of the town and its residents.
“The chief and I talked about this, and we’re hesitant to allow our officers to work extra duty at another agency at this point. I think we have enough exposure right now with the potential for them getting the virus,” Lutkus said.
“My number one job and why you have a police department is to make sure our citizens are taken care of, period,” Warlick said.