Whitehall leaders say the curfew established March 23 in the city – on top of already unprecedented statewide restrictions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus – has proved effective.
The city took the additional step of setting a curfew from midnight and 6 a.m. daily to protect businesses from theft and vandalism during Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order, leaders said.
“Having a curfew makes it easier to watch anyone who is out,” Whitehall police Chief Mike Crispen said March 26.
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“Anyone” included a man Whitehall police arrested in the early morning hours March 26 for attempted breaking and entering of a closed gas station on the 3600 block of East Main Street.
During the first few days of the curfew, Crispen said, no one had purposefully challenged it, but “because it is in place, it is easier to watch those who are out, and it has helped us catch a few people in the act (of committing crimes).
“So, all in all, it’s been helpful at protecting property,” Crispen said.
Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard ordered the curfew for that very purpose.
“There are some unscrupulous people who take advantage in a crisis,” Maggard said March 23, immediately after issuing the order.
Maggard’s order was allowed as part of her powers after declaring a state of emergency March 16 in Whitehall.
Whitehall’s city charter grants the mayor the ability to declare an emergency without City Council’s authorization, said Megan Meyer, public-affairs manager for the city.
Following the stay-at-home mandate that DeWine ordered March 22 – which was effective at 11:59 p.m. March 23 – Maggard said she and Crispen decided an additional, local measure was needed.
DeWine’s stay-at-home order, the latest in a series of sweeping statewide actions and orders meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus, has exceptions that include trips to the grocery store, pharmacy and other “essential” destinations and purposes.
The order was scheduled to be lifted at 11:59 p.m. Monday, April 6, but on April 2 was extended until May 1.
The mandate includes an exception for outdoor recreational activities, such as walking a pet or jogging – but Whitehall officials said they do not see the need to exercise outdoors in the dead of night.
“The outdoor-activity exception (in DeWine’s stay-at-home order) is a kind of free-for-all,” Crispen said.
While outdoor activity is essential, it does not need to “occur at 2 a.m. at Town and Country (Shopping Center),” he said.
During the curfew, Whitehall police will not stop people solely to inquire about destinations, Crispen said.
When interaction does occur, it is intended to be educational about DeWine’s stay-at-home order and Whitehall’s local curfew, he said.
“Our goal is to explain and educate,” he said. “Enforcement is our last desire.”
But Crispen added arrests of those found outdoors during the curfew isn't off the table if their purpose does not fit into the exemptions in DeWine’s order.
Officers have been instructed to use “common sense” in identifying “what doesn’t look right” during the hours of curfew, Crispen said, during which more officers will be on the streets.
Vacations and off-time for patrol officers were rearranged to “flood the city” with officers, he said.
The curfew policy is less aimed at enforcing social distancing as it is to prevent individuals or small groups from being outdoors overnight under the auspices of recreation, Crispen said.
“The curfew is meant to limit suspicious activity at night (and) protect property,” Maggard said.