Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister worked the graveyard shift alongside his deputies to patrol the county on the first night of a safer at home order limiting social interactions.
The order went into effect at 10 p.m. Friday night. It requires non-essential businesses that cannot maintain Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards to close and blocks residents and visitors from congregating in groups.
Chronister said most people were following the rules even as the order was only just beginning.
“A vast majority of our community was already distancing themselves because, you know, it’s the only thing we know that will work,” he said.
Those who were not following the order were understanding and compliant, Chronister said.
“There were some guys at a basketball court,” he said. “But we just educated them and they said, ‘We understand.’”
As for businesses, Chronister said he was pleased to see compliance. Patrols through various parts of the community showed empty shopping centers. Some businesses were busy, but he said it was all drive-throughs and take out orders and people were complying with keeping at least six-feet between individuals. One restaurant set up a table outside to serve customers to avoid having people come inside.
He found a barber shop still open, but it was before the order started and the proprietors said they were finishing up their last couple of cuts before closing up shop in compliance with the order.
Barber shops, salon, nails salons and massage parlors are among some of the types of businesses that cannot stay open because their services make it impossible to practice social distancing.
But Chronister said his deputies are willing and able to enforce the order if it becomes necessary.
Chronister spoke with Hillsborough Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta about enforcement.
“If you find someone in this predicament where they’re not following the order, after you place them under arrest, it’s going to be one of those situations where they have to go before a judge before bonding out,” Chronister said.
He’s also got plenty of deputies available to patrol the streets, even without employing overtime. Deputies who worked in non-patrol functions are being but out in the community, and others who had worked in now-closed schools and courts are also helping to beef up patrols.
Chronister said it was also important to him to get out on the streets with deputies to show them he’s got their back.
“Just like the rest of us, there’s a lot of anxiety,” Chronister said.
So far, so good. Chronister said all of his deputies are healthy. The agency had one child protection investigator show symptoms who had to temporarily self-isolate, but that person tested negative, he said.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Chronister said. “We’re doing our best to keep everyone safe … protective equipment like masks and gowns and lots of hand sanitizer.”
The department has also reduced its amount of person-to-person interactions by taking as many service calls as possible either online or over the phone. In instances where that’s not an option, deputies are meeting with subjects in open spaces.
His department is going to continue having an expanded presence in the community for the foreseeable future. It’s not about scaring people, Chronister said, rather making sure people are safe.
“We’re at grocery stores and shopping centers making sure people are complying with social distancing and, you know, someone’s not knocking over a senior to get to toilet paper.”
The department is booking fewer people into the County jail, too. Chronister said bookings are down to about 40-50 a day, down from a pre-coronavirus average of about 120-150.