Arlington Heights mayor warns tickets could be issued to enforce social distancing
Responding to critics who say he should take a harder stance, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes says he's taking a balanced approach to social distancing enforcement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic -- perhaps not as aggressive as that of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot -- but warned that police will issue tickets if needed.
"I think we've taken the appropriate measured response in trying not to be too heavy-handed on our residents within the City of Good Neighbors (who) for the vast majority are voluntarily complying," Hayes said during a village board meeting Monday night.
"We will if necessary take more heavy-handed enforcement actions by our police department as the days move ahead and as the need requires," he added. "I'm pleading again with our residents to comply voluntarily with the requirements of the stay-at-home order."
Hayes made the comments during a meeting held by videoconference, addressing concerns he says he's received via email that suggest he do more to enforce the state's stay-at-home order. Some suggested he should be "as tough as Mayor Lightfoot and the city of Chicago," Hayes said.
But Hayes believes measures taken by the village and other local governing bodies have been "appropriate" considering the size of Arlington Heights, relatively low COVID-19 numbers in town, and the level of voluntary compliance.
"The primary challenge that I and all village leaders have faced in the last three to four weeks and will continue to face in the weeks ahead is to find the right balance between safeguarding public health and allowing our residents and businesses to live their lives and earn a living as long as they comply with the social distancing guidelines and exceptions of the governor's stay-at-home order," Hayes said.
Conversations Hayes and other village officials had with leaders at the Arlington Heights Park District led the latter last Thursday to close two of the popular recreational areas where people were congregating in large numbers: Sunset Meadows and Lake Arlington parks. Park district playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis courts and hard play surfaces also remain closed until at least April 30, though all other parks and open spaces remain open.
Arlington Heights police report a 36% drop in calls for service since the stay-at-home order went into effect compared with the same period last year, though there have been an increasing number of calls for social distancing complaints in parks, according to Village Manager Randy Recklaus.
No tickets have been issued, as officers have persuaded people to disperse, Recklaus said.
But the manager and mayor both emphasized that officers do have the authority to write tickets if people do not follow social distancing guidelines.
"I don't like to give warnings, but with spring weather fast approaching, I am concerned, and so if you don't do it voluntarily, we will have to take other measures to ensure that you do," Hayes said.