Police continue State of Emergency enforcement

  • Highlands police officers are no longer manning checkpoints, but are continuing to enforce rules related to COVID-19.
    Highlands police officers are no longer manning checkpoints, but are continuing to enforce rules related to COVID-19.

Just because motorists no longer see Highlands Police Department officers manning traffic checkpoints coming into town on US 64, NC roads 106 and 28, doesn’t mean they’re not out there making sure the town’s shelter in place directive is enforced. 

HPD Chief Bill Harrell said Friday, his department is doing everything it can to make sure Highlands’ streets and its residents stay as safe from coronavirus infection from outside visitors as possible, but he declined to say how. 

“It would work against public safety and their best interests,” Harrell said via email. “We are not just deploying checkpoints, we are incorporating other techniques as well, but like a magician, those are unannounced tricks of the trade. We are still doing several measures, including checkpoints to gain compliance for the welfare of the community and everyone involved.”

Harrell said just because residents don’t see HPD officers along the roads leading into Highlands, doesn’t mean the department is not hard at work keeping residents safe.

Highlands Commissioner Marc Hehn said Harrell and the police department are doing an outstanding job. 

“Chief Harrell and his officers are working strategically to keep unessential travel into Highlands in check,” Hehn said. 

Harell noted that there is no script for how a local police department is supposed to handle a global pandemic.

“We just do the best we can, there’s no playbook for this kind of dynamic, but we do have a lot of experience dealing with the unexpected and our officers perform better a lot of times under pressure,” he said. “It’s how they’re wired and what drew them to this career in the first place.”

Harrell emphasized the governor’s shelter in place order has not changed in any way. If an empty Highlands Main Street is any indication, out of town visitors are staying away. 

“There is still a stay at home order in effect from the Governor and let’s not forget that cities and counties can have ordinances that supersedes the states in a state of emergency,” Harrell said. “Again, Highlands is not isolated from the pandemic as we have already had positive cases in Macon County.” 

For the most part, Harrell said, those who are denied entry into town and forced to turn around and head back from whence they came, take it nicely. 

“The majority understand and thank us for being there on the front line to do what we do for the greater good,” he said. “There are those too that are selfish, self-absorbed, or not complying with state and local orders who take issue, but they should have had enough common sense to have looked ahead – online – before they just piled in the car and though they would escape to Western North Carolina and Highlands.”