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The Yelm Police Department recently issued a memorandum to its officers instructing them on the message it should be providing to Yelm citizens as they cope with situations involving COVID-19, an illness caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The spread of the virus has resulted in decrees from Gov. Jay Inslee regarding business closures, proper hygiene and social distancing.

Take a deep breath, people of Yelm. COVID-19’s social media conspiracy theorists, trolls and liars can be defeated if we just keep our wits.

And Yelm’s cops want to help.

In an effort to alleviate community fears about harsh sanctions involving COVID-19 amid recent government decrees, the Yelm Police Department has issued a memorandum to its staff of 17 officers offering guidance on how they should help educate Yelm citizens comply with orders to stay home.

The one-page statement clearly states that officers should educate citizens about the new restrictions, but not to threaten or abuse.

The first paragraph reads: “The City of Yelm Police Department’s primary role is to help educate people about how to comply with orders to stay at home. We are not being asked to detain, arrest, or ticket for lack of compliance. Rumors of stricter law enforcements of ‘martial law’ are not true.” 

In a bulleted point further down, the statement reads: “When our officers encounter people not complying with an order, we will remind them, as appropriate, of the recommendation and restrictions.”

And to clarify the YPD’s stance even further, the bullet point below that reads: “Our department does not have any desire to make any arrests or take anybody to jail for violations.”

Or, for that matter, to specifically target anyone in the community. 

“We aren’t actively seeking out residents (during our patrols) to educate them on how to stay safe,” said Yelm Police Chief Todd Stancil in answering a series of written answers submitted by the Nisqually Valley News. “We will interact, enforce laws and maintain safety and peace in our community when appropriate. We will only educate residents when the opportunity presents itself to do so.”

Education, in fact, Stancil contends, is part and parcel of his police force’s daily duties — COVID-19 or not.

“Education is a responsibility of every officer regardless of the circumstance we find ourselves in,” he wrote. “We spend a majority of our time educating our residents, youth, and business owners on laws, crime prevention and general guidance in a variety of ways. Educating folks on how to remain healthy during the current outbreak is no different from what we normally do.”

Though officers have been educating residents on COVID-19 for the past couple of weeks, Stancil’s officers have so far found few violations to note — particularly since essential and non-essential activities as stipulated by the state are sometimes difficult to interpret.

“We are more focused on large gatherings of people outside of essential business,

Stancil wrote: “As the virus continues to spread and people are taking this more seriously, we are finding people are policing themselves and encouraging everyone to stay home or maintain social distance.”

Stancil indicated that the department has to its knowledge not encountered anyone in the community with a confirmed case of COVID-19, nor have officers interacted with anyone displaying virus symptoms. That said, the YPD’s precautions are evolving as the spread of the virus continues.

“As part of a new protocol countywide, TCOMM (Thurston 9-1-1 Communications) are asking specific questions regarding health prior to dispatching an officer,” Stancil wrote. “Based on the answers to those questions, officers will prepare themselves accordingly when they respond (by taking additional physical protections.)

It seems we all need that deep breath, including our first responders.

As Dr. Diana Yu, acting Thurston County health officer, wrote on March 24:

“Spring is here and the flowers are in bloom. Do try to get some fresh air and exercise but do so in your home or neighborhood, at least six feet away from others. Take deep breaths and notice all that we have to be grateful for. We will get through this …” 

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