Law Enforcement Responding to Public Health Order Violations, But Issuing Few Citations

La Mesa Police made 420 COVID-19 contacts but issued no citations. Businesses in apparent violation reopen

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As county leaders talk tough about cracking down on businesses in violation of public health orders, many law enforcement jurisdictions are choosing not to issue citations, but rather "educate" and ask potential violators for voluntary compliance.

In La Mesa, police have established a COVID-19 response unit made up of four officers. Between March 20 and May 19, officers made a total of 420 contacts. Officers have yet to issue any citations.

According to records, La Mesa police officers made contacts with non-essential businesses, employees and customers not wearing face masks, and people who were not social distancing.

“The La Mesa Police Department responds to all calls for service regarding alleged Public Health Order violations. Our philosophy throughout the COVID pandemic has been to provide education regarding the state and local orders and ask for voluntary compliance from potential violators. We strive to work in partnership with our community to keep everyone safe, and encourage citizens to continue to report potential Public Health Order violations by calling 2-1-1 or our non-emergency line,” said Lt. Gregory Runge, in an emailed statement to NBC 7.

One of the businesses La Mesa police made contact with is NXPT Fitness. Officers classified it as a non-essential business but did not issue a citation.

According to the county, NXPT Fitness is considered a gym, which is classified as a high-risk business and not yet allowed to open.

But on Monday, the fitness center reopened.

“I don’t consider ourselves a gym, this is a private membership facility. Gyms are supposed to be closed. What you see around you is not a gym, what you see is a physical therapy facility. We are well within our rights, our rules to be open," said Hannibal Smith, co-owner of NXPT Fitness in La Mesa.

Smith has gone out of his way to make sure the facility is keeping up to public health standards. He’s posted a reopening plan on this front window. There’s a hand washing station outside the front door. Employees and clients must have their temperature taken. Clients worked out in a taped off area, socially distanced. They do not share the same equipment and are provided with a bleach solution to clean their workout areas.

“Every single thing that science is telling us to do, that is backed up by the county, we are doing, and it’s implemented here,” Smith said.

Even though the county says his business should not be open, clients are comfortable at the facility.

“I feel more safe coming here than I do going in a grocery store,” said Nancy O’Connor, 66, from Jamul.

“I just feel comfortable, and I trust them that they know what they’re doing for the safety of everyone,” said Joanna Francica, who is four months pregnant.

The county public health officer is reminding the public to call 211 to report any violations.

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