Law Enforcement, Schools Dealing with Virus Impacts

COVID-19 and the uprising of national outrage following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis are making law enforcement nationwide take a close look at how it's serving and protecting these days.

Matt Kendall became Mendocino County's Sheriff at the end of last year and his first six months on the job have not lacked for challenges. Most recently, he was surprised by County Supervisor Ted Williams’s constituent-inspired proposal for county government to form some kind of law enforcement review commission.

Kendall said he welcomes the concept, though he would have appreciated a heads up from Williams first, and some interest beforehand from those proposing the commission in what the MCSO's record actually is when it comes to use of force and overall conduct.

Kendall said he has some ideas for a review board that would cast a wider net.

“If one of my guys steps out of line, he gets an internal affairs investigation, perhaps a criminal investigation… I live in a transparent world, and I should. The rest of government needs to do it, too. A lot of this movement is based on failures in the system and there are a ton of failures before 911 is ever called.”

Aside from spreading the focus beyond law enforcement, Kendall said such an approach would reduce “siloing,” where problems like a drug house in a neighborhood, for instance, get shuffled from one county agency to another. Kendall said he's working with the county's three police chiefs to come up with a specific proposal.


COVID Enforcement

Critics of the Sheriff's Office have taken Kendall to task for not being more aggressive enforcing shelter in place orders, both with out-of-area interlopers (aka visitors and tourists) and people who refuse to wear a mask.

Kendall said he is still leery of making arrests over masks or county of origin — “that's tap dancing on a land mine,” he said. “This is the first time we have tried to restrict the movement of people who are not sick.”

But, he said, the Sheriff’s Office is now geared up to arrest and jail people who defy quarantine orders. Anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 is required to quarantine for at least 14 days and the county Public Health Department checks up on them multiple times a day, Kendall said.

If the Sheriff’s Office gets a call from Public Health saying that someone has broken quarantine, he said, they are ready.

“Let's say you've got COVID, and you're ordered to stay wherever, and you're out and about. That is going to equal an arrest. Because that's too dangerous. If we can't trust you to keep the population safe, then we're going to keep the population safe. We've got things set up and ready for that and with the jail population down roughly 33 percent, we have the ability to do it safely. We have some cells that vent directly to the atmosphere. They're very easy to clean. If we have to put someone in there for 14 days (to quarantine), so be it.”


School Reopenings

The debate over re-opening public schools is raging nationally and in Mendocino County — and where the rubber meets the road, at local school districts where there’s a flood of information and opinion, but very few actual rules.

The Fort Bragg Unified School District is putting together its reopening plan, dependent always on a rapidly changing situation. The school board will vote on a reopening plan at their next Board meeting on July 20. Last week, Superintendent Becky Walker gave the broad outline.

Students at all schools will be divided into two groups, with one group going to school on Monday and Tuesday, the other going on Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays will be off days for cleaning the facilitiies.

All school days will be half days, Walker said, since group activities including recess, P.E. and lunch are cancelled for the forseeable future. Not only does that make eating at school difficult, she said, but the lack of activities makes the whole school experience a little grim.“I don't want our schools to turn into prisons,” she said.

Another major part of the district's plan is sharing information. On Wednesday last week, Dr. William Miller, Chief of Medical Staff for Adventist Health Mendocino Coast hospital, met for two hours with teachers and staff.

Walker pointed to the ongoing teamwork between the schools, the hospital, city government, county Public Health, Mendocino Coast Clinics and law enforcement to manage the unprecedented situation.

“It's not an ideal situation at all,” she said, “but I feel fortunate in the community leaders we have here to form a partnership.”

Walker said she fully expects schools to shut down again at least temporarily - all Fort Bragg schools will close for at least 72 hours for deep cleaning, she said, if and when a case appears.

One aspect that hangs over the entire effort is testing. Like with essential workers, the state recommends teachers and school district staff be tested every two weeks.

Currently, testing capacity on the Mendocino Coast is nowhere near being able to do that, with between 50 and 450 tests available per week in the area between Westport, Boonville and Elk.

Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller, who seconded Walker's praise for local cooperation between agencies, pointed to testing as a serious concern for both the school year and the local economy: “The City doesn’t really have a participating role in how the School District reopens,” she wrote, “but we have been working together to share information especially about testing options or lack of testing options. Obviously, testing continues to be a challenge here on the coast and not one that we expect to get any better. This issue is shared by the business community, the hospital, school district, the clinics and the City. Anything we can do to keep each other apprised of needs and collectively press County officials and State Representatives with a consistent view from each of our viewpoints helps.”


Notebook:

Five Apache helicopters boomed down the Mendocino Coast last Thursday morning. Six left a fueling station in Humboldt County, reported Lost Coast Outpost. A definite five were seen over Fort Bragg. Maybe the sixth will turn up.


Traffic jams have returned to the Fort Bragg-Westport corridor. They never really left, but the latest round of surfacing on the massive pavement rehab project has started near Fort Bragg again and the cars stretched as far as the eye could see from the Pudding Creek Bridge Monday while a CHP officer directed traffic the old fashioned way from the pavement. Work is expected to continue for the next two weeks at least.


A traffic jam of another kind broke out on Highway 1 Sunday afternoon when a small outbuilding at the edge of a giant eucalyptus grove about two miles north of Inglenook caught fire. The response was impressive: CalFire sent a helicopter and spotter plane, besides the full compliment of engines, water trucks and inmate crews from Chamberlain Creek. The Fort Bragg Fire Department was on the job as well. There were no injuries and no other structures were damaged. 

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