Don’t call 911 to ask questions about stay-at-home order, Abingdon police chief says

Coronavirus

Stay-at-home questions bog down 911 dispatch line, Sullivan says

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ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) – Abingdon officials are asking the public to stop calling 911 to ask questions about Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order, calling it improper use of the 911 emergency management system.

Washington County dispatchers estimated they received more than 20 calls from Monday to Thursday from citizens asking about closed roads, travel restrictions or to report individuals gathering or otherwise not complying with the executive order.

Abingdon Police Chief Tony Sullivan is asking citizens to stop making non-emergency calls to 911.

“They’re asking questions, can I go here, can I go there, and then they’re asking, ‘Do I have to have papers to travel with?'” Sullivan said, adding, “When you call 911 and you’re tying up a 911 line, that’s tying up a line for a true emergency.”

In a press release and in social media posts, Sullivan asks citizens to read the executive order instead of calling the police for clarification or permission to travel over state borders.

The press release also asks citizens not to call and complain about seeing cars from other states in town.

In the press release, Sullivan outlines a few points for citizens:

  • The Constitution of the United States still exists and all U.S. citizens have the right to travel or more within and between the 50 states.
  • You are not required to carry documentation related to the purpose of your travel.
  • Residents from other states are not prohibited from traveling to or through Virginia.
  • Virginia residents are not prohibited from traveling out of states.
  • Virginia roads and highways are not closed.

While Sullivan said he understands the convenience of calling 911 to ask travel questions, he said that those questions could be dangerous for someone trying to get through for an emergency.

“That’s really improper use of the 911 system, and that’s a violation of law,” he said. “People need to think about this and think about who they’re calling.”

To date, Sullivan said his department hasn’t issued any citations for noncompliance with Northam’s executive order.

He said his department isn’t out to cite people, and officers won’t be pulling over cars to ask where they’re going to see if it fits with the stay-at-home order.

“We’re not after convictions we’re after compliance, period,” he said. “We want people to comply. If you refuse to comply, you’ll get cited.”

Sullivan said he’s mostly noticed compliance with the order – people walking in the park appear to maintain physical distancing, he said, and most businesses have altered to fit with Northam’s orders.

“By and large everybody’s doing a good job,” he said.

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