Local law enforcement agencies choose education over enforcement when it comes to social distancing

The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office estimates 3,000 people attended a block party over the weekend in DeLand, clearly violating state guidance on large gatherings and social distancing.

People packed the streets standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Body camera video shows deputies and officers working to clear out the crowds.   

“Not only was this a public safety issue but it was a matter of public health,” said DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger.

Despite those public health concerns, Umberger and Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said they were not looking to lock people up for breaking social distancing rules.

“I’ll tell you, it’s not my job to enforce social distancing orders from the governor. That’s not what police do,” Chitwood said during a news conference Monday.

RELATED: Volusia County deputies make arrests, deal with thousands of people gathering at block party

“Our officers, we’ve told them, don’t get into the middle of trying to enforce social distancing. You talk about strained community relations with police…now we're going to tell people they can’t stand…you’re five feet apart, not six,” Umberger explained.  

In Florida, police have the ability to arrest people who don’t follow the governor’s guidelines for reopening the state, thanks to an enforcement clause included in the executive order.   

“It’s a second-degree misdemeanor and carries a max penalty under Florida law of 60 days in the county jail and/or $500 fine,” said legal expert Bob Fisher.

We wanted to know if other agencies are enforcing social distancing.

The sheriff’s offices in Seminole County, Osceola County, and Orange County told FOX 35 News they have not made any arrests. Instead, they are emphasizing education to get compliance.

“They have the tool but they’re trying not to utilize it,” Fisher said.

However, there may be limits to that discretion.

“If somebody is going to constantly violate after being warned. You’re going to leave law enforcement with no choice but to enforce the executive order,” Fisher said.

Several people were arrested at the block party on charges unrelated to social distancing.

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