Local law enforcement has investigated 350 PAUSE complaints in Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 August 2020 at 7:46 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Orleans County Undersheriff Mike Mele says local law enforcement takes an education emphasis with local businesses when there is a complaint filed about violating social distancing or wearing masks.

ALBION – The Orleans County Sheriff’s Office and village police officers have responded to 350 citizen complaints about local businesses or organizations violating the governor’s guidelines about social distancing and wearing masks.

None of the businesses have had their liquor licenses suspended and none have been forced to close due to fines, Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson told local town, village and county officials on Tuesday evening.

She praised the local law enforcement, who are tasked with investigating the complaints, for not taking an overly punitive approach.

“They go and educate,” Johnson said during the meeting of the Orleans County Association of Municipalities. “That’s what this is about, keeping our businesses open during a pandemic.”

Sheriff Chris Bourke and Undersheriff Michael Mele said the Sheriff’s Office will investigate the complaints to see if there were violations. Some of the complaints are about social gatherings in excess of the current limit on 50 people.

The governor has allowed people to file “New York on PAUSE” complaints online or through a phone number (click here for more information). The complaints are then directed to the Sheriff’s Office, local village police departments or the Health Department to investigate.

Law enforcement or Health Department staff will then go to verify complaint. Sheriff Bourke said some complaints come two or three days after incident, too late to be observed by law enforcement.

If complaint is substantiated, the business or organization will be issued a “Covid-19 Complaint Informational Letter.” If a second complaint is verified, the business owner, manager or executive board member will receive warning letter from county attorney and the business needs to submit safety plan to Orleans County Health Department.

If third verified complaint, there will be $250 fine, according to a letter from the Health Department. Any subsequent verified complaints, the fine will increase by $250 to $500, then $750 and then a maximum of $1,000.

“Any gross or willful violations may be subject to maximum fines at discretion of Health Department or county attorney,” according to the Health Department.

John Belson, the Yates town supervisor, told the local officials he doesn’t think people should be allowed to file anonymous complaints. Bourke and Mele said some complaints aren’t anonymous, but the governor has allowed people the option to not include their names.

Bourke said he suspects some complaints are filed to get a business in trouble, when there hasn’t been a PAUSE violation. Local law enforcement won’t substantiate a complaint when no violation has occurred, Bourke said.

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