CLINTON — As Illinois’ stay-at-home-order remains in effect, the groans of business owners are growing louder.
As those voices escalate, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has said those who violate his orders can be fined – which he said is a less aggressive way to keep people from disobeying the orders when compared with shutting down a business completely. But there is some confusion as to how this would work.
Pritzker has given authority to local law enforcement to enforce his orders. But many local and county law enforcement agencies across northwestern Illinois say they either cannot enforce the orders because of a lack of personnel or will not do so because they disagree with the governor.
In Whiteside County, Sheriff John Booker explained that enforcing the order is not necessarily a law enforcement issue.
“As a sheriff’s office, anything in our jurisdiction and if we get a report, first of all, we aren’t issuing any fines or making any arrest,” Booker said. “We aren’t shutting any businesses down or church or anything like that. We are simply responding to the call, observing, and reporting it to the proper entity.”
Booker said if a business is not in compliance, once his department goes out to the call, they will forward the information on to the local state’s attorney and the local health department. He said by no means is he not enforcing the governor’s orders, but more so following the steps and procedures that are outlined for how they are supposed to react to these situations.
“This isn’t a law enforcement issue,” Booker said. “This is about public health. They are calling it a pandemic. This is a public health pandemic.”
Booker mentioned that this falls back on public health departments and state’s attorneys across the state. Though his department is not directly involved in enforcing the governor’s order, he said he wants people in Whiteside County to adhere to the governor’s directives.
“Again, I am by no means telling anyone to defy the governor’s orders,” Booker said. “Wearing the mask in public and social distancing I strongly encourage everyone to do, and there’s a reason, I think, our numbers are down – because we did that at the beginning.”
Booker said he wanted to restate that people who have a professional license in the state should adhere to the governor’s orders. He mentioned various departments, for example the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, could revoke a business’s license if its owners are not complying with the governor’s orders. Also, Booker said the Illinois State Police have the authority to go to a business and fine it or shut it down, because the governor is their boss.
Booker said that the pandemic has been challenging for his department. He said with the virus spreading across the state, his priority is making sure all of his people are safe, including inmates at the Whiteside County Jail.
“Once they’re in my jail, they are my people to take care of,” Booker said. “We had to set up safety precautions so the inmates didn’t end up getting it.”
Booker mentioned that things are extremely difficult because no one has ever gone through this before. He said normally he could look back and see how a prior sheriff did something, but since this pandemic is new, he and his department are doing the best that they can.