By Gaige Davila
Like many police departments across Cameron County, Port Isabel Police Department (PIPD) began increasing enforcement of Cameron County’s shelter-in-place order on Monday, March 30, trying to curb the amount of traffic in Port Isabel and South Padre Island.
PIPD will now be randomly stopping cars in Port Isabel, asking where they are going and why, PIPD Chief Robert Lopez told the PRESS in an April 1 phone interview.
Lopez said the increased enforcement began Monday, by stopping cars coming from Highway 48 from Brownsville, Texas and Highway 100, where people from Laguna Heights, Laguna Vista, Los Fresnos, Brownsville and beyond travel through. Officers handed out flyers outlining restrictions under the shelter-in-place order.
PIPD officers asked where people were coming from and for what reason. Those officers, Lopez said, reported 80 percent of travelers were on their way to work, with the other 20 percent going to Port Isabel’s H-E-B and Walmart stores for groceries.
Denise Baker’s parents, who live at the South Padre Island Golf Course in Laguna Vista, were among the persons stopped on Tuesday, March 31. Baker said her parents were concerned that the officers were not wearing protective gear such as face masks and gloves.
When asked why the officers weren’t wearing gloves, Lopez said the officers are provided with masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. The officers, Lopez said, can choose whether or not to wear face masks and gloves or to sanitize their hands after each interaction with a person. As of now, there is no department, city, county or state requirement for police officers to wear medical protection while working. Residents of Port Isabel, however, must wear face masks while at any public building, as of April 4.
The checkpoint-esque stops that were made on March 30 and March 31 and will likely not continue, Lopez said.
Initially, PIPD was not going to enforce the shelter-in-place order, as the PRESS previously reported on March 26, but increasing traffic in Port Isabel and South Padre Island, and complaints from residents, led to PIPD’s decision to increase enforcement.
“We were a little lenient, but we’re going to kick it up a notch,” Lopez said.
So far, 2 to 3 citations have been issued to persons violating the shelter-in-place ordinance, Lopez said. One of those violations was a person launching a boat from a closed boat ramp in Port Isabel. Excursion boating is not allowed and boat ramps are closed, per City of Port Isabel and Cameron County restrictions.
South Padre Island Police Department (SPIPD) has squad cars on the Island-end of the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway, but South Padre Island City Manager said they were not pulling anyone over as they exited the bridge, during a phone interview with the PRESS on April 1.
Smith said the officers are counting cars, tracking how much traffic is entering the Island and are “paying attention to orders.”
Two days later, the City of South Padre Island created a checkpoint at the base of the Causeway, stopping and questioning all drivers coming into the Island.
During an April 1 news conference, Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said a special “task force” will begin enforcing the county’s shelter-in-place order, with a principal function of “checking vehicles.” Vehicles traveling with two people or more will be among those most likely to be stopped.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. ordered a county-wide shelter-in-place beginning March 25. The shelter-in-place order ends on April 7 at 11:59 p.m.