Awaken Church

SDPD Opts Not to Enforce Health Order at Large Church Gatherings

San Diego Police choose not to respond, putting the enforcement responsibility on the county's health officer

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After the Awaken Church in Kearny Mesa held its third large gathering in as many weeks on Wednesday night in an apparent violation of public health orders, San Diego police confirmed they were called about the gathering but chose not to dispatch officers.

Wednesday night, dozens gathered in the church’s parking lot for an outdoor concert. The attendees mostly appeared to be young adults who not wearing masks or social distancing.

On July 17, the church was issued a cease-and-desist order after holding an indoor service, in violation of renewed public health restrictions. The order also called for parishioners to comply with social distancing, face covering and sanitation requirements.

The county issued a statement in response to the latest apparent violation on Wednesday night:

“Our compliance team is looking at possible next steps. It is more than clear in our order that the church is responsible for gaining total compliance from their parishioners. It is also clear they have not succeeded again this week,” said Michael Workman, county director of communications in an email.

Meanwhile, San Diego police released a statement on their decision not to respond to reports about the event.

“The San Diego Police Department would like the community’s assistance in complying with the county health order, and we believe every person should take responsibility to adhere to it," said Lt. Shawn Takeuchi via email to NBC 7.com.  "The department is not in a position to shut down activities such as church services, and we believe the county health officer is in a better position to seek compliance. It is our understanding that the county has been in contact with the Awaken Church to ensure adherence to the health order."

The response speaks to the challenges and frustrations officials face trying to control egregious violators.

The county plans to form a so-called safe reopening compliance team with local jurisdictions.

“What we have to do is step up our efforts to be able to quickly and rapidly identify an egregious violator and draft a public health order, and in conjunction with law enforcement, go serve it on them,” said County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

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