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Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm delivered an emphatic warning to residents related to violations of social distancing and public gatherings, saying that if people continue to ignore the governor’s executive order, the town will begin taking steps to enforce them—including setting up checkpoints and issuing misdemeanor summons.
“If we have to respond, then we’re going to start checking,” he said at a recent Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting. “We’re going to issue a summons...you’re going to have to go to court. It’s a thousand-dollar fine. Please don’t force our hands. Please comply with the law.”
First Selectman Peggy Lyons said that she has recently received a large number of reports of groups larger than what is legally allowed by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont’s March 26 executive order, which limits “social and recreational gatherings” to a maximum of five people.
Lyons emphasized that these restrictions are not just recommendations, and that the town is required to enforce them.
“That is an order—that is the law,” Lyons said. “There seemed to be some confusion out there, that the town was only recommending this. No, the town is mandated to enforce this. So all Madison residents, no matter what your age or circumstances, are expected to follow this law.”
Drumm did not hold back expressing his frustration with the disregard some residents were showing for these rules, emphasizing that anyone who willfully flouted the public gathering rules was needlessly endangering friends, family, and community members.
“If you don’t really care about your own safety, think about your neighbor and your other family members, and people that you know in this community—it’s not fair to them,” he said.
Drumm said the Police Department itself has had four exposures to the coronavirus in the last two weeks, including one in the department building itself, which required a full shutdown with cleaning and and during which dispatch services temporarily moved to a regional partner.
“We’re trying to avoid that throughout this community,” he said.
Drumm said he had seen or had reports of people congregating at golf courses, beaches, and “20 or 30 kids...with a fire going” around Hammonasset Beach and the Surf Club.
Though he is not currently having officers stop or confront groups of people violating the order, Drumm said the department has reminded people if they were being stopped for other reasons.
Drumm said he had personally rolled down his window when driving by the beaches to remind groups of people that they shouldn’t be gathering, but that “they aren’t happy to hear that.”
Another step the town could take would be to entirely close off these public areas, or even instituting a curfew, according to Lyons, if the “poor behavior” continues, though she also said she hoped residents could start following the law on their own.
“I think that we as a community would prefer to not go in that direction,” she said.
Because the Police Department is already under increased strain during this crisis—Drumm emphasized officers are responding to more non-criminal related “specialized services,” often related to seniors in need of assistance—Lyons said she would like to avoid putting any extra strain on them, and might even consider having Parks & Recreation staff stationed at beaches and parks for the purpose of monitoring and enforcement.
In response to a question from Selectman Erin Duques about what other towns are doing with their beaches, both Drumm and Lyons said Madison was somewhat unique because of the popularity of its beaches, and also due to Hammonasset State Beach, which can only be closed by the state.
Fairfield County has closed most of its beaches, according to Drumm, but that around the state it is a “mixed bag” as far as policy. He said Madison “may have to step up sooner” with some of their policies in regards to the six other departments that make up the town’s region.
“We can close our beaches, but then Madison residents are just going to create even more of a congestion issue at Hammonasset,” Lyons said. “So until you take a broader regional approach...I think it’s very difficult to enforce all of this.”
The state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection is going to reduce parking spaces to 600 at Hammonasset this week, according to Drumm, and Madison officers will be assisting in directing traffic and enforcement as that goes into effect.
Both Lyons and Drumm said they understood people wanted to get out. No one was saying residents shouldn’t go out for walks on their own or with people they live with, or do their necessary grocery shopping, Drumm said, as long as everyone adhered to the state’s laws and social distancing guidelines.
But that is not what has been happening, according to Dumm.
He said that he was recently told by a Madison mother that her teenager had been telling her he was going out “to the store.”
“They’re being less than truthful,” he said.
Lyons said that parents should have those serious conversations with their children, if they hadn’t already, about the vital and urgent need to avoid congregating and gathering and continue to follow orders from the state.
According to Drumm, though, if residents continue to endanger themselves and each other, police might have to step in, though he also said he was hopeful that people would start taking social distancing guidelines more seriously on their own.
“If you leave me no choice, I have to force the issue. That means officers in the street, that means checkpoints and sending people home,” Drumm said. “I don’t want to have to go that route. We’re from Madison. We’re a great town. We have good people here. I think we can do it on our own.”
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