COLUMBUS, Ohio — Governor Mike DeWine announced Thursday that the Ohio Investigative Unit, a division of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, would be assisting in enforcing rules for mask-wearing and social distancing at bars and restaurants.
"Most bar owners are doing a good job, but we do have bar owners out there who are not doing a good job, and so we've asked the health department to pinpoint those," DeWine said, adding that the OIU would also be continuing that work.
Typically, the OIU enforces Ohio's liquor laws and investigates crimes on or about liquor permit premises, according to Greg Croft, agent-in-charge of the OIU Cleveland office.
With COVID-19, Croft said, there have been a lot of changes to the industry.
"We've been trying to educate as much as we can," Croft said. "We have taken some enforcement action for places that are egregious violations where there [are] dozens of people congregating, not social distancing. You know, basically a threat to public health and safety."
Croft said all OIU agents are peace officers who have dual authority to issue both administrative citations and criminal citations.
"If we find a place in violation administratively, we will issue what's called a violation," Croft said. "It will be a violation notice against the liquor permit, which is not criminal, it's administrative only. They'll have to go to a hearing down in Columbus in front of the Ohio Liquor Control Commission."
That commission would then decide whether to give the business a fine, suspension or revocation.
Croft said the "vast majority" of the businesses that hold Ohio's more than 20,000 liquor permits are "doing a great job, doing the best they can."
"But there are some that are still committing some egregious violations, so those are the ones we're gonna be targeting," Croft said. "We're not going to be targeting locations that are trying to make a good effort to do what's right."
Croft said OIU agents will take complaints from the public, as will local health departments, and that the OIU will begin with administrative violations rather than criminal citations.
Asked what he would say to people who aren't following mandates or recommendations about mask-wearing and social distancing, Croft said, "All that we can say is that the health order’s in place for a reason. You know, we have to follow what's there. The business owners have to follow it. I would ask that the patrons have respect for the business owners. They're trying to do the right thing."
If you have concerns or complaints, you can contact your local health department or the OIU.
In Cuyahoga County, more than 550 complaints came in to the county's hotline about people not wearing masks in the first weekend after the state mandate for Cuyahoga County went into effect. Most of the complaints were about businesses.
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