Brian VanVickle has been fielding calls this week from area pastors asking if he’ll arrest them if people gather for church services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a constitutional officer, I never expected to take a call like that in my career,” VanVickle said.
The Ogle County Sheriff took to Facebook last week and said that his office will not fine or arrest any individuals or businesses violating the Governor’s executive stay-at-home order. Gov. Pritzker has taken the stance this week that law enforcement will be fining and arresting people if they violate it.
VanVickle said his office will continue to stress that individuals practice social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask when social distancing is not possible.
“I am in no way advising you to defy the order currently in place,” VanVickle said. “I’m explaining how the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office views the current order. Individuals holding professional licenses should consider potential revocation if they defy the Governor’s order.”
VanVickle said that there is no mechanism in place to charge, arrest or fine someone in violation of the order. He said it isn’t a law, it’s an executive order.
VanVickle built his statement off of one released by the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, where he serves on the executive board. That statement said the Governor is threatening retaliation against local officers if they view it the way the VanVickle does.
“Apparently, these consequences now include the threat of litigation and loss of funding, including funding that has been designated through the Federal Cares Act that was designated to units of local government,” the ISA statement said.
VanVickle said the ISA has reached out to the Governor’s office for clarification on these issues and more, but received no response.
“It gets us to where we’re at today,” VanVickle said. “People are confused. This could have been avoided.”
He can’t recall ever having to make a statement that comes out against the state government. Other state sheriffs have come out with stances similar to VanVickle, such as Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana.
“The response from sheriffs has been bipartisan,” VanVickle said. “It’s not a political issue.”
No one in Whiteside County will be cited or arrested for violating stay-at-home order, said Whiteside County Sheriff John Booker.
“That’s more of a judicial thing than a law enforcement order, I believe, the way I interpret it, as its interpreted in Whiteside County,” Booker said. “It’s a very gray area, and it needs to be settled in the courtroom, not in a sheriff’s office or a police department.”
Booker is a Democrat, VanVickle a Republican.