Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order Monday, requiring a strict policy that will keep Oregonians largely at home and most businesses in the state closed for the foreseeable future. 

It’s a misdemeanor to violate the order meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with penalties including jail time and fines. But in Central Oregon, the Deschutes County sheriff is taking a softer approach for now.

“We will educate and encourage voluntary compliance and will not arrest or cite anyone based on the governor’s order,” Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said in a Twitter video shortly after the order came down.

The hope is “complete voluntary compliance,” according to the sheriff’s chief public information officer Sgt. William Bailey.

“Having said that, the order is enforceable. And if we get to a point where people are not voluntarily complying then he [the sheriff] will reassess it,” Bailey said.  

County officials are already trying to reduce jail population so the facility doesn’t become a hot bed for COVID-19, and “we don’t want to tie up our officers or deputies with having to address these people not complying with the order,” Bailey added.

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson speaks at a press conference Dec. 7, 2018. 

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson speaks at a press conference Dec. 7, 2018. 

Emily Cureton/OPB

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sent OPB a statement in support of Nelson’s tack:

“We believe the Governor’s order is crafted with, and motivated by, a desire for voluntary compliance. The Attorney General supports Sheriff Nelson’s attempt to reason with the people of Deschutes County to stay home to save lives. I would suggest it is reasonable to give Oregonians some limited time to adjust to this new (and hopefully very temporary) reality before taking law enforcement action. Be safe. Be well.” 

According to Bailey, Deschutes County law enforcement has not reduced staffing since the coronavirus started spreading in the U.S.

But the department has changed protocols.

More reported crimes are being handled by phone. When they have to go out, deputies try to talk to people outside. They carry masks, gloves, eye protection and respirators, as well. The precautions have become a standard practice for first responders since the pandemic began

“There are just certain things we have to respond to and we can’t just walk away from … If it’s a death investigation and we have to enter a house, we send one person in, versus three or four deputies,” Bailey said.

And as commercial and public life in Oregon grinds to a sudden halt, everyday conflicts haven’t stopped.  

“We’ve gotten barking dog calls, we’ve gotten domestic violence. Burglary. Traffic complaints and DUI arrests. We’ve arrested a couple DUIs since this (the first state-mandated restrictions and closures) went into effect,” Bailey said, noting he expects a shift in the type of calls for service. 

“When you have less people out in the community, you’re seeing less traffic crashes, less public disputes, but … we could see an increase in mental health calls, we could see an increase in domestic violence calls.”

Deschutes County reported its first coronavirus case two weeks ago.