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US governors, officials want face masks to be worn – here’s why some police departments won’t enforce it

Written by on July 17, 2020

U.S. governors and officials working to stop the spread of coronavirus are ordering the public to wear masks, but when it comes to enforcing the new mandates, some police are looking the other way.

Police officers and legal experts that spoke to the Wall Street Journal said opposition stems from several issues, including having other priorities and concerns about bias.

“Enforcement of people not wearing face-coverings in public would be very challenging and detract the few crucial resources we have,” Ronald Lawrence, the police chief of Citrus Heights, California, told the newspaper.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom is among the U.S. governors who have ordered their states to wear face masks in most public spaces. (AP)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is among the U.S. governors who have ordered their states to wear face masks in most public spaces. (AP)

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has made mask-wearing mandatory in most public places.

Lawrence’s department has handed out more than 13,000 masks to local businesses, the Wall Street Journal said, but when it comes to enforcing Newsom’s order, it is one of several police agencies that won’t.

Newsom has threatened to withhold billions in federal and state coronavirus relief aid from counties that don’t comply and “redirect those dollars to communities that are.” So far, state lawmakers have not followed through on the warning.

This situation is not just unfolding in California.

Sheriffs and police chiefs in North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee and Kansas also announced they won’t force the public to wear masks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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Face-covering rules contain exceptions for people with certain health conditions, too – putting police officers at risk of bias if they pursue the wrong people, said Leslie Gielow Jacobs, a professor at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

“This is so broad-based almost anything could be seen as in violation, so they could be accused of selective enforcement,” she added.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been advising Americans — and at times pleading with them — to wear face masks or coverings since April.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

As of Friday afternoon, there were more than 3.6 million infections and at least 138,840 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S.

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