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Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre

TUPELO • Anyone violating Gov. Tate Reeves’ shelter in place order could face fines and even jail time. But it is not likely.

The executive order says people should stay at home except for essential travel and avoid all gatherings of more than 10. The governor said that all state, county and local law enforcement agencies can enforce the rule. According to the Mississippi Code, the offense is a misdemeanor and violators could face a fine of up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail.

Most law enforcement agencies will not be going out of their way to pull over cars to make sure the travel is considered essential. But a large gathering of people, more than the 10 specified in the state mandate, will bring the attention of the men in blue.

“If we get a call or happen to see a large gathering, then we will step in,” said Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre.

Tupelo had its own shelter in place order last week when a large group of high-performance sports cars showed up Thursday evening on the west side of town. By the time police were notified via social media and arrived, there were close to 100 cars at Ballard Park.

The shift lieutenant informed the organizers about the city rule and asked them to disperse. Officers returned 15 minutes later and repeated their instructions to leave.

“When we had to come back 20 minutes later for the third time, we started writing tickets,” Aguirre said. “We issued six or seven citations for failure to comply and there were some open containers as well. Once we started citing people, the crowd quickly broke up.”

In Marshall County, the Holly Springs Board of Aldermen on April 2 approved a curfew from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. and Police Chief Dwight Harris took to social media to let the public know his department will enforce it.

“Our officers have been advised to give citations to anyone gathered in groups of 10 or more, especially at parks or folks hanging out in parking lots,” Harris said. “Our goal is to stop the spread of this deadly virus.”

The other part of Reeves edict was for residents to limit travel outside the home to essential reasons only.

“We are not going to be out there pulling folks over, but if we do stop you, we will ask you why you are out on the road,” Harris said. “If you are not out for essential reasons, you should remain in your home or we will will cite you.”

In Tupelo, police will not be heavy-handed, instead opting for a “soft approach” to give people an opportunity to comply on their own.

“We are not going to ride up and down the street to pull over people to ask them why they are out on the road,” Aguirre said. “If you are messing around, doing 100 or acting stupid, then we will pull you over. But you’ve got to give us a reason.”

Aguirre said he has seen a marked decrease in traffic around Tupelo and guesstimated that 90 percent of the people on the road are on their way to work, to the store, to a restaurant to pick up food or one of the other legitimate reasons to be out on the road.

Alcorn County Sheriff Ben Caldwell said his deputies will not be pulling over cars to determine why people are on the road. Instead, they will trust the citizens to comply with the governor’s order of essential travel only.

Chris Dickinson, the Itawamba County sheriff, not only asked people to remain at home but took to social media to urge people to avoid panic buying of staples when they do go to grocery stores.

Amory Police Chief Ronnie Bowen agreed.

“There is no need to rush the grocery stores, banks or any other essential business,” Bowen said. “They will still be allowed to conduct business and you will be able to get what you need during the time for which the order is in place. Restocking of those places will be as normal as you make it.”

The governor’s executive order went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday. It will remain in place until 8 a.m. Monday, April 20.

william.moore@journalinc.com

Twitter:@WilliamMoore_DJ

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