Official: Howell cops have ‘bigger fish to fry’ than your Thanksgiving dinner
Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick has the support of at least some township leaders, as he makes the rounds on national television to say he won't be enforcing Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people.
Kudrick called the limit — which Murphy put in place just ahead of Thanksgiving, amid warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention that holiday gatherings could seriously accelerate novel coronavirus spread — "draconian" during an appearance on Fox & Friends.
In a memo to his officers that leaked to the media on Friday Kudrick said officers will not respond to any report of social distancing or mask violations except for "egregious violation such as a packed house party."
The chief said in his memo he is not defying Murphy's orders, and he believes everyone has to do their part to end the pandemic.
"However we the police will not be used to carry out orders I feel are detrimental to our relationship with our community. Or, will put officers in a no-win predicament such as being called for a social distancing or mask complaint. Although justified in our enforcement, the perception will be the opposite and majority support will be lacking,” Kudrick says in the memo to department employees.
The chief said on Sunday's Fox and Friends as resident of Howell who does business in the township he is aware that many business owners are hurting.
“So as a police chief, in charge of 100-plus police officers, I felt it was just incumbent upon me just to let them know, and let my community know, that we’re not going to enforce some of these executive orders, which I feel are basically draconian," Kudrick said.
Kudrick said his officers are not going door to door to check on how many people are at Thanksgiving dinners. He said that when people are hurting, as they are in the pandemic, it’s up to friends and family to lift each other up.
Kudrick told Fox Business News' Stuart Varney he was inspired to write the memo after watching the owner of Capricci Pizza take a call cancelling an event scheduled for his party room because the restriction on indoor gathering would allow only 10 people to attend.
"That was his livelihood. That was his only income for the weekend. I thought to myself, 'I'm sitting here watching the owner of a business lose his business, and what can I do in order to prevent that?'" Kudrick told Varney.
Howell Mayor Theresa Berger hasn't responded to New Jersey 101.5's messages left Monday seeking comment. A spokesman for the Monmouth County prosecutor's office said prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni had no comment on Kudrick's memo. Township attorney Joseph Clark referred questions to Township Manager Brian Geoghegan, who has not yet responded.
But Deputy Mayor Evelyn O'Donnell in an email said "the chief of police is in charge of running his entire police department and by doing so will make judgment calls that he feels best suits the needs of his department and the community. I have not had any conversation with Chief Kudrick concerning this executive order from the governors office."
Republican township councilwoman Pamela Richmond told New Jersey 101.5 that Kudrick's policy is "good policing."
"Chief Kurdick has always been a community police chief. He's pretty in touch with our community and he knows what responsible residents we have here and I think it was a good choice," Richmond said.
Richmond said what people do in their homes is their business, and she does not think Kudrick wants to cross that line.
"In today's culture of police and where they stand, I think we put them in a bad position" by having them have to make that decision," Richmond said.
The majority of constituents who have contacted Richmond about Kudrick's memo also support the policy, she said.
"If I had to say we've heard from ten I think nine applaud him and one feels its his job to instruct the police to do it, and I understand it's a very difficult time. It's very hard to maneuver through, but have to put it on the police's shoulders I think it's unfair," Richmond said. "I think they have bigger fish to fry, so to speak.
Murphy said during his coronavirus briefing on Friday that he does not know Kudrick, but stressed that his executive orders are in place to save lives.
“I have no idea who this guy is but I would just say it is the obligation of all members of law enforcement, especially leadership, to enforce the laws and enforce the executive orders that are in place particularly if the objective is to save every life that we can,” Murphy said. “These executive orders are about saving people’s lives and folks need to be reminded of that.”