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Police in Mass. communities ready to enforce state’s nonessential business closure amid coronavirus pandemic

A worker sat in the storefront of a cell phone company as she checked her phone on Newbury Street as businesses around her closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Municipal police departments said Tuesday that they stand ready to enforce Governor Charlie Baker’s closure of nonessential businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, but authorities expressed confidence that the public will comply with the directive.

Ryan Walsh, a spokesman for the Springfield Police Department, said via e-mail that the state Department of Public Health provided guidance on the matter to the city’s health department.

“For violations, a first offense results in a warning,” Walsh wrote. “A [second] offense may result in a civil citation and up to a $300 fine. A [third] and further repeat offenses can result in criminal penalties including a $500 fine, imprisonment or both.”

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Boston police Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman, said detectives from the BPD licensing unit will document any businesses that violate the order. Detectives will likely issue license premise violations to nonessential businesses that remain open, he said.

Such violations are adjudicated before city licensing officials, who can issue fines and other sanctions.

“We hope that people will comply with the governor’s order, but if they don’t, the detectives from the licensing unit are out there,” Boyle said. “And they will be issuing violations” to businesses that flout the order.

Baker’s business closure order, which took effect Tuesday at noon and will remain in place until at least April 7, does not affect grocery stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, or gas stations, among a variety of other businesses that can remain open.

Those required to close, such as movie theaters, barbershops, and bookstores, must shutter their physical locations but, where possible, companies are encouraged to operate remotely.

Massachusetts joins at least 12 other states with formal orders or advisories urging citizens to stay inside amid the pandemic.

Baker’s order Monday also included a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, further restricting what had been a limit of 25 or more.

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In Wellesley, many nonessential businesses voluntarily closed prior to Baker’s order, said police Lieutenant Marie Cleary, a department spokeswoman.

“We do not anticipate having issues with voluntary compliance,” Cleary said via email. “Should there be any, we would issue warnings as a 1st course of action/education. We have been fielding some phone calls from the public looking for clarification as to what is considered essential vs nonessential."

Over the past week, Cleary said, “we have had a handful of calls from the public about group gatherings on athletic fields, which have turned out to be less than 10 people and usually just [two or three] people. When we have encountered these groups we have advised them the parks and playing fields are currently closed and they have left without any issues.”

Revere Police Chief James Guido said Tuesday that he doesn’t anticipate any issues with Baker’s order in his city.

“Everybody in the community has been very cooperative,” Guido said, adding that officers will tell violators of the business closure that “they can’t be open.” If police spot anyone violating the gathering prohibition in a park or elsewhere, Guido said, they will disburse the group.

Any violator, Guido said, will be referred to city licensing officials, which could jeopardize the offender’s “license and ability to operate in the future.”

“I don’t foresee any problems,” Guido said. “I’m more concerned with the health of the officers.”

Quincy Police Captain John Dougan, a department spokesman, said city licensing officers will be checking to ensure compliance with the order, and patrol officers will address any violations they observe, as well.

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If a business ignores the order, Dougan said, “we’ll go in there and advise them” that they must close. He said Quincy officers also will look out for prohibited gatherings of 10 people or more, adding that “we really haven’t had any problems.”

“It seems like most people are heeding” the directives, Dougan said.

Norwood police Chief William G. Brooks III said that while the governor’s order makes it clear that municipal boards of health are responsible for enforcing the order, his officers will be available to assist.

“I think we can be helpful [by] encouraging them to comply,” he said, referring to local businesses.

Police and the local board of health can both issue citations that carry fines to offenders, Brooks said, and repeat offenders can eventually be subject to a criminal complaint.

“I don’t think it’s going to escalate to that in most cases,” Brooks said.

His comments were echoed by Bridgewater police Chief Christopher D. Delmonte.

“Overwhelmingly, there is strong cooperation and broad support not only [with the] public but among business owners to do the right thing,” Delmonte said. “The business owners themselves are very responsible.”

Matt Stout of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.