Riverside County Sheriff's Department cruiser. File photo: Toni McAllister
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department cruiser. MyNewsLA.com file photo: Toni McAllister

Gov. Gavin Newsom has instituted a controversial curfew across much of California, but he may have trouble getting law enforcement to take any action backing up the curfew order.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said deputies will not enforce any part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised stay-at-home order, joining other sheriffs throughout the state Friday who affirmed that no resources will be dedicated to enforcing it.

Sheriffs in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and other counties appeared to agree with Bianco, who issued a statement Thursday night saying, “To ensure Constitutional rights are not violated and to limit potential negative interactions and exposure to our deputies, we will not be responding to calls for service based solely on non-compliance with the new order, or social distancing and mask guidelines.”

The sheriff noted that it is “important that all of us do everything we can to protect ourselves” from coronavirus risks, but as he did in March when he declined to enforce Newsom’s original stay-at-home order, Bianco emphasized the need for individual responsibility to govern residents’ decisions — not the fear of government penalties.

In Orange County, Sheriff Don Barnes said his agency plans to remain focused on “emergency calls,” not enforcing health orders.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has taken an education-first approach with regard to the public health orders,” Barnes said. “We are currently assessing the action by the governor. At this time, due to the need to have deputies available for emergency calls for service, deputies will not be responding to requests for face-coverings or social gatherings-only enforcement.”

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, who was just elected to Congress, blasted the order and Newsom.

“Governor `do as I say, not as I do’ Newsom’s curfew on 90% of CA’s population in 41 counties is an unenforceable abuse of power,” Steel wrote on her Twitter page. “It’s a wrong way to make up for his `bad mistake’ of wining and dining — maskless & inside — at an exclusive restaurant, violating his own order.”

Steel was referring to a much-publicized gaffe by Newsom, who attended an adviser’s sizable birthday dinner at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa despite his own orders against large gatherings. Newsom publicly apologized on Monday, calling his attendance a bad mistake. But criticism has continued to mount, particularly after photos of the gathering were broadcast by Fox11 in Los Angeles, showing the governor in relatively close quarters with other party attendees.

Orange County was moved into the state’s restrictive “purple” tier on Monday, along with 27 other counties, amid a statewide surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. The move left 41 of the state’s 58 counties — 94.1% of the state’s population — in the “purple” tier.

The move into the restrictive tier forced the banning of indoor service at restaurants and closure of movie theaters, while also prohibiting indoor operations at gyms and fitness centers.

Coronavirus cases have been surging statewide. Orange County on Thursday reported 582 new diagnoses of coronavirus, raising the cumulative case count to 67,167. The county also announced nine more COVID-19 fatalities, hiking the death toll to 1,537 as hospitalizations continue to climb.

One of the fatalities was a skilled nursing facility resident and another was an assisted living facility resident.

In Riverside County, the sheriff questioned the data being produced to justify the governor’s public health lockdowns, as well as additional requirements then imposed by county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser, saying during one Board of Supervisors’ meeting that the mandates hindering people’s freedoms “cannot be the new normal.”

Riverside County Sheriff Bianco’s no-enforcement declaration followed the one issued by Orange County Sheriff Barnes, and since then, others have telegraphed the same intentions. Among them are San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, Placer County Sheriff Devon Bell and El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini.

Under the governor’s “limited” stay-at-home order, nightly curfews will be in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., beginning Saturday and continuing to Dec. 21.

Newsom said the goal is to limit viral transmission opportunities, especially in gatherings, as COVID-19 infection rates rise.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic, and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge,” he said. “It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations.”

Earlier this week, he announced that 28 counties were going back into the “purple” tier under the California Department of Public Health’s color-coded regulatory framework for virus containment. It’s the most restrictive tier, impacting offices, restaurants, movie theaters, hair salons, gyms, houses of worship and other entities deemed by the state to be “nonessential.”

Riverside County was reclassified purple nearly a month ago, after a roughly four-week turn in the slightly less restrictive “red” tier.

The only curfews that have been actively enforced in Riverside County in the last two decades have stemmed from gang injunction lawsuits. Permanent injunctions against Riverside’s Eastside Riva and Cathedral City’s Barrio Dream Homes gang resulted in mandatory curfews — applicable only to known gang members — within narrow specified locations of each city, generally from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The injunctions, imposed in 2007 and 2008, respectively, mandated that documented gang members were not supposed to congregate or be on the streets for any reason during the curfew periods. Otherwise, they were subject to detention and possibly arrest.

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