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Albany police chief addresses uproar over COVID-19 arrests
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Albany police chief addresses uproar over COVID-19 arrests

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Albany Police Chief Marcia Harnden got an early morning call from a state senator on Wednesday.

Was her department planning on arresting people for violating the governor’s orders surrounding social distancing over the coming Thanksgiving holiday?

“We’re not going to arrest people,” Harnden said Wednesday afternoon.

The uproar on social media and throughout the community was traced back to a form found on the Albany Police Department’s website.

It was created in March, when the pandemic first caused closures throughout the state. The department was receiving calls about businesses and patrons not adhering to rules about wearing masks and social distancing. Because the department didn’t have the resources to respond to each of those calls, it created the complaint form.

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“Yesterday, someone picked that up (off the APD website) without any context and ran with it,” Harnden said. “They didn’t call us and ask for the context, and it just blew up. It's been on the website since March."

Gov. Kate Brown issued new rules surrounding COVID-19, instituting a two week “freeze" that went into effect on Wednesday and is to be reevaluated Dec. 2. New guidelines asked that Oregonians refrain from getting together for Thanksgiving in groups larger than six people from two different households.

“The police are not going to knock on your door interrupting your Thanksgiving dinner,” Harnden said, noting APD simply doesn’t have the resources. The first step for those blatantly violating the order, she said, would be education. The second would be a warning, and the third would be taking a report.

Since the form was placed on the department’s website, Harnden said there has not been a single arrest in Albany.

“We get calls from major retailers saying someone won’t wear a mask and they’ve been asked to leave but won’t leave,” Harnden said. "We’re not going to enforce the mask (rule), but the retailer has the right to ask someone to leave.”

Those concerned about people violating the governor’s order can use the form on the department’s website that Harnden said has since been altered so it does not appear to encourage people to turn in their neighbors. Still, she is asking people to be safe.

“People who have had to deal with COVID in their families, it’s a scary illness,” she said. “But just use common sense and make sure you’re watching out for your health and the health of others.”

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