REED CITY — Osceola County Sheriff Ed Williams knows that some people won't be happy with his decision to not investigate businesses that are in violation of the governor's executive order by being open.
He's willing to take the criticism.
"It seems as though small businesses are being hurt most by this," Williams said. "Free enterprises need to be able to operate. I'm not on the fence about this. We need to let the American people live free."
With Osceola County grouped by the state in the same region as Grand Rapids, businesses in the county have not been able to open as quickly as those in neighboring Wexford and Missaukee counties, which are in the Grand Traverse Region.
"They're looping us in with a major metropolis," Williams said. "Society has changed so much. People aren't shaking hands anymore. They're keeping their distance and washing their hands after everything. We're taking the precautions we need to. People can still get gas, where hundreds of hands touch the same pumps, but they can't get their hair cut. It doesn't make any sense to me."
Williams said the job of the police is to "protect the people, eliminate drugs and fight crime." For a department as small as the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, Williams said they simply don't have the resources to investigate every call they get about businesses being open when they shouldn't be.
"At the end of the day," people have the option to go there or not go there," Williams said. "Nobody is saying that people can't take extra precautions to protect themselves. But we're a small organization that still has crime to fight. We don't have time to worry about these orders."
While Williams said the sheriff's department won't investigate calls about businesses being open in violation of the order, other state agencies could decide to look into the matter. In addition, Williams said many businesses are licensed by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. If a business is found in violation of the order, LARA may revoke their license, Williams said.
Other police agencies in the area have developed their own philosophies for enforcing the governor's orders.
In Lake County, which also was grouped in the Grand Rapids region, Sheriff Rich Martin said while he doesn't condone an outright disregard of the law, they won't investigate a violation of the order unless it is "blatant." He said the executive order is full of grey areas, so it's not always necessarily clear cut when a violation has occurred.
"I'm not going to say we're out there playing hard ball with people, because we're not," Martin said. "I feel for businesses. We're at a point right now where we definitely need to open up or else it will be worse for us in the long run."
Since the executive order has been issued, Martin said he's aware of the county issuing only a couple tickets for violations, and they were in conjunction with other crimes, such as fleeing and eluding and disturbing the peace. None were related to businesses being open when they shouldn't be.
With residents and businesses testing the boundaries regarding the various executive orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Wexford County law enforcement agencies issued a joint statement in May.
The statement came via a release from Wexford County Prosecutor Jason Elmore, Wexford County, Wexford County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Corey Wiggins, Wexford County Sheriff Trent Taylor, Wexford County Undersheriff Rick Doehring, and Cadillac Director of Public Safety Adam Ottjepka. In the release, it stated that as a collective group they all prefer not to issue any charges for violations of the executive orders, but also consider any potential violation a serious matter.
Elmore said the potential legal issues surrounding this are much more complex than most realize. With that in mind, law enforcement can't give legal advice or make any statements permitting anyone to violate the orders. As in every legal argument, there are two sides and that is why there are courts with experienced and fair judges who make decisions.
"It is a crime to not comply with this and other EEO's. We prefer not to charge anyone. We prefer to encourage compliance as we all work together," Elmore said in May. "It takes all of us working together collectively and unselfishly to survive this as we know we can. If we receive complaints or notice violations, law enforcement will issue a letter to those businesses, not in compliance."