Merced County businesses closed due to COVID-19 can request extra patrols by deputies

MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Many businesses throughout Merced County are being hit hard with closures or cutbacks since the state issued a 'shelter in place' order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

That includes On Your Toes Dance Studio in Hilmar.

Owner Nicole Cuoto and her staff say it's the most challenging experience they've faced since opening eight years ago.

"We rely on that monthly tuition from our students to pay rent and pay for electricity and to pay all of our bills, so without them here, it's going to be hard to get through the following months," says the studio's assistant director, Ashley Mendes.

Authorities are also concerned that empty businesses could attract criminals. That's why extra deputies are now being assigned to keep an eye on commercial areas as well as schools.

Sheriff Vern Warnke says, "With the courts closing, we've got court deputies out that are doing this so on top of patrol deputies. We've got other deputies who had other assignments who are now on active patrol to proactively go after and protect these businesses."

The Sheriff's Office has also created an online form that business owners in unincorporated areas can use to request extra patrols if COVID-19 restrictions have impacted them.

It asks for contact information and a few other security-related questions for law-enforcement use only.

Click here to go to the form.

You can also sign up by calling the non-emergency dispatch line at 209-385-7445.

Warnke says, "We encourage people to take advantage of this from us. We want people to remain safe and know that the sheriff's office is out there being proactive."

Ashley Mendes says it's welcome support as the dance studio tries to stay on its feet.

She explains, "With us not here every week, it's nice that they're willing to keep an eye on things. I know we have our security cameras, and we have locks on doors and everything, but it's nice to have people who care and are willing to put in the extra effort to make sure our businesses stay safe."

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