Police in Kane County now can ticket businesses not complying with COVID-19 precautions
Kane County sheriff's deputies and municipal police officers will begin issuing misdemeanor citations to local businesses that fail to comply with COVID-19 precautions.
The potential legal penalties mark a change in policing the virus and possible consequences for not following guidelines laid out by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Until now, local law enforcement has said they've lacked the legal authority to enforce rules, such as wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing.
The change follows two weeks of getting a legal opinion from the Kane County state's attorney's office and virtual conference calls among Sheriff Ron Hain and local police chiefs. In May, Hain expressed concern his deputies could be sued if they tried to enforce COVID-19 precautions without a specific state law giving them the power to do so.
Tuesday, Hain said Pritzker's most recent executive order does not require law enforcement to act but does provide the legal authority to take action against any "business, service, facility or organization open to the public," according to a letter from State's Attorney Joe McMahon to Hain.
With that guidance, Hain said, his department and local police all have a clearer picture of what they can and can't do when addressing COVID-19 precaution complaints.
The sheriff oversees enforcement in the unincorporated areas. Municipal police are in charge of the incorporated areas, but the sheriff can assist if local police or the county health department request it.
The letter, obtained by the Daily Herald, focuses on what retail establishments must do to comply with state health rules. They include posting signs requiring face coverings, providing face coverings to customers, and asking customers who refuse to wear a face covering to leave.
Businesses that don't follow the rules will be informed about them and educated on how to comply, Hain said in an interview. If that informal warning doesn't work, the officer can issue a written "Notice of Non-Compliance" and allow a "reasonable" amount of time -- not less than one day -- to comply. If that fails, the officer can write the business a citation for a Class A misdemeanor violation, which includes a fine of up to $2,500.
Hain said he doesn't expect he will have to take legal action very often. Since the pandemic broke out, Hain said, he's met with more than 100 local businesses. Only one had to be closed, by the health department, to force compliance.
"To have that amount of success from just talking to people is a great thing to be able to point to," he said. "Enforcement actions will be an absolute last resort because the people of Kane County have shown they are being really responsible."
There may also be an element of financial pressure on Hain. County board member Angie Thomas is part of a committee overseeing $93 million of federal CARES Act money. Millions of dollars' worth of supplies and equipment for Hain's department await the release of funds.
Thomas made it clear her support hinged on Hain's willingness to write citations if needed.
"If we're approving funding for (the sheriff) to resist the COVID-19 health emergency, then I absolutely want to know they are complying with the governor's latest order," she said.
Hain assured Thomas the governor's orders now give his deputies the power to act as needed.
He said in an interview that enforcement action will apply only to business violations. When his department receives calls about large parties or other gatherings, including religious services, his approach will be to talk to organizers and ensure precautions are taken.
So far, Hain said, that's worked without fail. That includes past interactions with officials at the Northwest Bible Baptist Church and Academy near Elgin. The latest state health rules allow for religious gatherings of up to 100 people.
Hain said the Northwest Bible Baptist Church has plenty of space to allow for social distancing at even that large of a number.
"The pastor reassured me they can handle it, and they are taking precautions, and I believe that they can," Hain said.