Should Police Officers Be Enforcing Mask Rules?

The Miami-Dade Police Department has cited hundreds of businesses and individuals for not following face mask rules, collecting $300,000 in fines. Many other cities have taken a laxer approach, reports USA Today. In Austin, Tx., daily fines can be as high as $2,000 for individuals, but police rarely levy them. Educating the public, not punishing them, is the focus, the agency said. As the COVID-19 death toll nears 200,000, face mask mandates have spread, with more than 30 governors issuing statewide orders and city or county ordinances filling in where governors haven’t in some states, such as Florida, Arizona and Tennessee. How these rules are enforced varies.

At a time of intense scrutiny on law enforcement amid protests against brutality and calls to defund the police, many police leaders believe that punishing people for not wearing masks would put officers at the center of another fraught controversy. “With all the national issues right now with law enforcement … do we really need police officers handing out tickets for people not wearing a face mask? … Do we really want police officers enforcing health issues?” said Steve Casstevens, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and chief of the Buffalo Grove, Il., Police Department. Jason Johnson of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund agreed, citing a Philadelphia incident in which officers were captured on video dragging a man off a bus after he refused to wear a face mask. Lindsay Wiley, who teaches public health law at American University, said it’s “improper” to rely on police to enforce public health requirements. “It could be counterproductive and could create a situation where there’s an escalation of the conflict,” she said. Dozens of legal challenges have sought to render face mask requirements unconstitutional. Courts have consistently held that such mandates do not violate individual rights.