If law enforcement officers see you congregating closely in groups in Teton County or in town they’ll likely ask you nicely to stop doing that.

The Jackson Police Department and the Teton County Sheriff’s Office have been handling complaint calls about people not physically distancing — mainly at Snow King, Grand Targhee and Teton Pass — but they haven’t cited anyone yet.

As new health orders are passed by local government restricting certain gatherings, the cops are seeing it as an opportunity to educate the public rather than punish people.

“They aren’t looking for heavy-handed enforcement,” Jackson Chief of Police Todd Smith said of elected officials. “It’s a mechanism to send a strong message. There is that part of gaining compliance, but the direction has been more toward education to compel people to do the right thing with discussion and diplomacy. That has worked for the most part.”

Smith said that mostly it’s about people simply remembering to stand at least 6 feet apart.

“The majority are doing the right thing, orders or no orders,” Smith said. “But whether it is innocent or intentional some people forget. They are out with a friend or loved one and are forgetting to keep the 6-foot distance because it is not natural.”

Smith said his patrol officers are trying to keep their own distance from people, but if they need to remind folks to spread apart they will.

“They’ll drive up and maybe roll down a window, and they try to keep it as lighthearted and positive as possible,” Smith said. “That has worked out really well.”

Aside from having to break up a house party of 20-somethings last week, Smith said for the most part people are taking the recommendations and orders seriously.

Several complaints have been made about people congregating in the Grand Targhee parking lot.

“The complaints are that people are still have barbecues and parties there,” Sheriff Matt Carr said. “We sent a deputy over to assess the situation over the weekend. There were several folks in smaller groups, but they were acting within the rules.”

Carr said most people have agreed to change their behaviors.

“We want people to have that access, and it’s great to have those recreational opportunities as long as people are being responsible,” Carr said.

He and Smith said an important reminder is for people to not call 911 when they see a physical distancing violation.

“Any time a new order or recommendation comes out people call into dispatch,” Carr said. “Our dispatchers are reading those like anybody else is.”

It’s better to call the non-emergency line or an administrative line at the Police Department or Sheriff’s Office, they said.

As a last resort, the penalty for violating a health order is a maximum of $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

Contact Emily Mieure at 732-7066 or courts@jhnewsandguide.com.

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