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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pullman Police enforce public health proclamations as students return to WSU

Students cross Stadium Way last summer on the Washington State University main campus. Pullman Police issued notification this week that officers would be enforcing laws regarding large gatherings and parties as the city and university prepare for an influx of students in Pullman amid pandemic restrictions.  (Libby Kamrowski)

Parties and other social events in Pullman have prompted the city’s police department to announce it would crack down on violations of Gov. Jay Inslee’s pandemic regulations as Washington State University students return to town.

Police enforcement would be designed to lessen the chance of COVID-19 spread.

“Our approach has really been education and warning and that has been fairly successful to achieve compliance,” said Police Chief Garry Jenkins. “In the past couple of weeks we have seen an increase of gatherings and parties and that has coincided with WSU students returning for the academic year.”

Officers will start enforcing violations of social distancing and face mask proclamation requirements, which are considered a gross misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a year in jail.

Violating an order issued by the State Board of Health or by local health officials is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100 and/or 90 days in jail.

Individuals hosting parties or gatherings will be held responsible not only for their individual violations but also for hosting the gathering, Jenkins said.

People allowing a party or gathering with attendees not in compliance with face mask or social distancing requirements or gatherings of more than 10 people are committing a class 2 civil infraction punishable by a $250 fine.

Failure to disperse such a gathering is also a misdemeanor.

The WSU Center for Community Standards will be notified of student proclamation violations that occur off campus, as is standard for all student criminal conduct off campus, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said Pullman police have yet to cite anyone for a violation but will do so after alerting the public Wednesday to the department’s shift to “enforcement mode.”

“We wanted to make sure we informed the public before we transitioned to more of an enforcement mode,” Jenkins said.

A town hall Wednesday coincided with the enforcement announcement. The town hall, scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday, was to include WSU President Kirk Schulz, along with the mayor of Pullman and Whitman County health officials.

Jenkins said Whitman County health officials have already expressed concern about an increase in proclamation violations causing an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Currently, Whitman County has 131 confirmed cases, according to the health department website.

While Jenkins said his officers are ready to issue citations, he hopes to see renewed voluntary compliance.

“Really our whole goal is compliance,” Jenkins said. “We hope we don’t have to issue any form of citation.”