Officials set to enforce business ban in Erie County – GoErie.com

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Tim Hahn @etnhahn

Friday

Mar 20, 2020 at 5:36 PM
Mar 21, 2020 at 5:46 AM

State police, Erie County agencies, Erie police among those involved in the effort.

Pennsylvania and Erie County officials were urging voluntary compliance for those “non-life-sustaining” businesses in the state ordered closed by Gov. Tom Wolf as plans were being developed on Friday to enforce the order after it takes effect Monday morning.

Wolf, in an order issued Thursday and then modified Friday night, mandated that a large number of businesses be closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those businesses on the list that fail to comply face enforcement action that could include citations, fines or license suspensions, according to the order.

“To protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, we need to take more aggressive mitigation actions,” Wolf said in a statement announcing the order. “This virus is an invisible danger that could be present everywhere. We need toactwith the strength we useagainstany other severe threat. And, we need to act now before the illness spreads more widely.” The Friday night modification pushed enforcement of the order later, until Monday at 8 a.m.

Among the agencies charged with enforcing the order are the Pennsylvania State Police. Captain Kirk Reese, commander of state police Troop E in Lawrence Park Township, said Friday morning that he would prefer that business owners comply with the governor’s order and avoid the necessity of state police involvement.

“Right now we are urging compliance and trying to figure out what to do beyond that,” Reese said.

Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said Friday afternoon that while the agency will enforce the governor’s order, the real goal is focused on voluntary compliance, educating the public “and really showing we’re all in this together.”

He said the head of the state police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, which has been enforcing an order from earlier this week prohibiting licensed liquor establishments from selling food and alcohol on premises until further notice, reported on Friday that the bureau had made over 1,800 compliance checks statewide with more than a 90 percent compliance rate. A handful of those establishments were given warnings, Tarkowski said.

“We kind of expect there to be the same type of enforcement we do this weekend,” he said. “It’s not a matter of the Pennsylvania State Police wanting to go out and issue citations. It’s really a matter of, this is a public emergency, we’re first responders.”

Sgt. William Stuckey, commander of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement’s Erie office, said his office’s task since the ban on on-premises food and alcohol at licensed establishments went into effect on Wednesday has been to simply conduct compliance checks to ensure all establishments with liquor licenses are in compliance with the advisory notice. The Erie office covers Erie and six other counties.

“Overall, 98 to 99 percent of the premises checked so far have been compliant, Stuckey said Friday.

If an establishment is found in violation, the bureau’s officers make contact with the license holder, advise them of the violation and the advisory notice and ensure that whatever violation is occurring, such as patrons consuming alcohol on premises, ceases before the officer leaves, Stuckey said. The license holder is also given another copy of the advisory notice and is advised that the business will be rechecked in 24 hours, he said.

If violations are found when a business is rechecked, the license holder risks a citation from the bureau and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is notified of any citations, Stuckey said.

Officers in the Erie bureau had not issued any citations locally as of Friday morning.

Erie Bureau of Police officers have observed some violations at locations in the city that the bureau believes should have been following the on-premises consumption ban from earlier in the week, Police Chief Dan Spizarny said Friday. Information was passed along to the Erie County Department of Health, and the owners of those establishments could possibly be cited, he said.

“As the new order goes into effect we will evaluate them as the days go on. We have options,” Spizarny said. “People may receive citations in the mail if their business should have been closed.”

“It’s on them,” Spizarny added. “They risk transmitting the disease, and we don’t want to see that.”

Spizarny said he is asking the public not to call the police department if they see a possible violation to the expanded business ban that takes effect at 8 a.m. Monday. He said if officers on patrol see violations they can deal with him, and he does not want the department to get flooded with calls while they deal with other emergencies in the city.

Erie County Solicitor Richard Perhacs said Friday morning that Erie County will do everything it can to assist the state in enforcing the restrictions and is working on an enforcement program. The Erie County Department of Health is specifically authorized to participate, and “we intend to do that,” Perhacs said.

Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper said county health officials will work with county law enforcement personnel to enforce compliance.

A health department staff member will first contact the business owner and inform them that their business is required to close.

“We will give them an hour to come into compliance and then send a team to check,” Dahlkemper said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

If the business remains open, the team will again inform the owner to close. Should the owner refuse, the county will order the business closed.

The county will also then start the process to revoke the business’ food or liquor license, or start legal proceedings if it isn’t a licensed business, Dahlkemper said.

Perhacs said county officials have to be careful, however, that what they are doing does not get in the way of what the state is doing. He said they need “a lot of information” on what the state is doing, when the state is doing it, who the state is doing it with and in what form the action is going to take, because there are a number of ways to enforce the directive.

He said county administration is “firmly behind” doing what it can to make sure businesses, operations and activities that continue to operate in a manner inconsistent with the governor’s order are addressed in some fashion.

Staff writer David Bruce contributed to this report.

Contact Tim Hahn at thahn@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.

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