Pullman police now writing tickets for COVID-19 social distancing violations

First offense will cost $150; subsequent offenses will involve $500 fine, court date

JENAE LAXSON, Evergreen roots editor

The Pullman Police Department will immediately issue fines to people not following social distancing guidelines instead of providing warnings.

People hosting large parties are choosing to ignore the information provided by police, said Pullman Police Cmdr. Jake Opgenorth. Warnings and education did not seem to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he said.

The fine for violating the social distancing guidelines is a minimum of $150 for a first offense. For a second offense, people will be required to appear in court with a minimum fine of $500, he said.

The department could choose to arrest people if fines are not sufficient to prevent large parties, but Opgenorth said he does not expect that to happen.

People can avoid violating the social distancing guidelines by abstaining from groups with more than 10 people, wearing masks, and maintaining a 6-foot distance, Opgenorth said.

“We have been educating and warning people for a month, and I think everybody knows what the rules are,” he said. “We decided to enforce our nuisance party ordinance for these incidents.”

The Pullman nuisance party ordinance states that a party or social gathering that results in certain conditions, such as consumption of alcohol by a minor, is declared to be a public nuisance, subject to fines, according to the city code.

The ordinance can apply to violations of the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines because of the statewide emergency issued by the governor, Opgenorth said.

The Pullman PD has responded to a number of complaints involving the nuisance party ordinance, but no violations were found. The department is seeing a bit more compliance already, he said.

The police department considered student conduct violations, but the department does not work with WSU, he said. 

“We are a separate entity, and we cannot share information with WSU,” he said. “We did not have many options other than the law that allows us to enforce the governor’s proclamation during an emergency.”