'I'm not going to be anybody's boogeyman': Sheriff won't enforce COVID-19 order as criminal offense
"This is not political. I'm simply saying we don't have this problem here. And I don't want to create a problem where one does not exist"
DUPAGE, Ill. — DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick has joined a chorus of suburban law enforcement officials who say they won't enforce Gov. J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order as a criminal offense.
Mendrick said he believes DuPage is ready to reopen responsibly and he won't "victimize" lawful residents "trying to put food on their children's table."
"We are dealing with a serious rise in crime, new challenges in our correctional facility and a massive upsurge in our courthouse when everything opens back up," Mendrick wrote Sunday on social media. "We will rise to the challenge. This is not the time to introduce fear into our society by threatening class A misdemeanors."
Instead, he said, it's time to help residents and businesses "get back on their feet."
The post on Mendrick's personal Facebook page came one day after McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim announced his office doesn't have the capacity nor desire to enforce the governor's orders. Last week, the Kane County sheriff's office said it wouldn't take enforcement action against anyone for violating the executive order without a judicial order.
On Monday, Mendrick said he decided to post the message after receiving hundreds of phone calls from "terrified citizens asking me if I'm going to arrest them" for meeting with their friends or being at a business.
He said there's no need to threaten to arrest residents when they are staying home, wearing masks and social distancing to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
"Through community policing and education, we've had full compliance," Mendrick said. "So why would I threaten a society that's compliant?
He stressed he's not defying Gov. Pritzker.
"This is not political," Mendrick said. "I have no intention of defying him. I'm simply saying we don't have this problem here. And I don't want to create a problem where one does not exist. And I certainly will not threaten my public.
"I am not going to be anybody's boogeyman," he said.
Mendrick said he spent so much time reassuring residents and business owners that he wanted to put out a statement telling everyone "what they need to hear so they know we're not going to be after them." By Monday afternoon, the Facebook post was shared more than 1,600 times and had more than 600 comments.
"I thought I was going to get rid of all the phone calls by putting a statement out," Mendrick said. But now he's getting calls from people thanking him.
In the post, Mendrick wrote that he stands with DuPage residents and businesses "who have offered no trouble or no resistance to any rule we put upon them, no matter how strange."
Meanwhile, he's concerned about "politics pitting everyone against each other and then wanting the police to arrest everyone who disagrees.
"We are not storm troopers," he wrote. "We are peacekeepers."