Some police departments say they won't enforce mask mandate

Posted at 9:08 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 23:20:28-04

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio — In seven Ohio counties, including Cuyahoga and Huron counties, it's now mandatory to wear a mask as of 6 p.m. Wednesday. But a few police departments are taking issue with enforcing that mandate.

Police departments in Bedford and Berea posted on Facebook, stating that they wouldn't be enforcing the mandate until they "receive clarification and direct instruction" on the order. However, they also stated they would enforce the law when it comes to trespassing violations at local businesses for people who will not wear a mask.

"From what I understand at this point, it's what you might call a pretty soft enforcement mechanism," Jessica Berg, dean and professor of law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said.

Berg said the governor has noted that if a health department needs help enforcing the order, they can call on "typical enforcement resources."

"But I don't think anybody actually expects that the police are going to be involved in actually enforcing this," Berg said.

She added, "It's certainly possible that if people don't wear masks or very blatantly flaunt not wearing masks in an unsafe situation or who, say, know that they are COVID- positive and film themselves or very publicly walk around saying, 'I'm not doing this,' You could see something different happen in those kinds of cases."

Berg compared it to the way in which departments may prioritize enforcing or not enforcing other laws, such as jaywalking.

"It’s a balancing issue all of the time," Berg said. "I think it is important for people to recognize that the choices they make in this context have real life and death consequences for other people, and I think the governor's point is simply to say, 'You really need to do this. This isn't an optional kind of thing. It means that your choice not to wear a mask is someone else's life.'"

Berg added that not only might the order help individuals "orient themselves to the level of severity and the concerns," but it also might take some of the burdens off of businesses, allowing them to "be able to say more easily to people, 'There's an order for that. It's not just me telling you in my business. It is a statewide mandate from the governor.'"

While the order isn't significantly different from the previous recommendations to wear masks, Berg said, "Sometimes it's really just the way you need to communicate something, and I think this is part of the problem. It was very hard to have the period of time where things were shut down. Businesses suffered enormously. Individuals suffered. This was not an ideal situation by any means, and I think that people felt like when things opened up, that was a message that you can go back about your lives in a way that wasn't as safe, as we're seeing now with the rising levels. So what we're seeing at this point is an effort to communicate back, 'There are still some real restrictions in place.'"

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