Growing list of law enforcement agencies say they won’t enforce mask mandate

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 6:15 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Numerous law enforcement agencies are saying they won’t enforce the mask mandate from Governor Tony Evers. The mandate goes into effect 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

“It is not something that we are going to enforce at this point,” Captain Terri Hook of the Oneida Sheriff’s Department said.

”I don’t see us enforcing that unless there’s some sort of conduct, or disorderly conduct or civil unrest of some sort,” added Sheriff Larry Woebbeking of the Taylor County Sheriff’s department.

Oneida and Taylor Counties join other law enforcement agencies, like Portage, Wood, and Lincoln Counties. The Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids Police Department’s have also added that they will not be enforcing it. Many of them share a similar sentiment.

“We simply cannot field complaints about non-mask violations. We would overwhelm our resources, overwhelm our dispatch center,” Sherrif Woebeking said.

Wood County Sheriff Shawn Becker agrees.

“We’re very busy the way it is and now adding that on top of our shoulders, it’s just not feasible,” Sheriff Becker said.

An exception in the mandate is if you have a health condition that prevents you from wearing it. Captain Hook had concerns with that.

“We don’t have ways to know if a person has a medical or mental health condition that would keep them from wearing a mask,” Captain Hook said.

Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks asked people in a statement Friday to “please do not call our communications center to report mask mandate issues.”

He continued with, “we are awaiting a decision by the Wisconsin Attorney General to determine if the recent mask mandate will be a law enforcement action or a Health Department function.”

Most law enforcement agencies have said, though, that they will enforce the mandate if a business has a policy that consumers are refusing to comply with and it turns physical. But if the person is peaceful, then they will let it be.

“We are just not going to respond to the peaceable person who chooses not to wear a mask,” Sheriff Woebbeking said.

The DOJ sent out a statement to law enforcement agencies across the state that said, “The goal is voluntary compliance. For intentional violations of the face covering order, enforcement will depend on the factual setting.”

“Unlike the ‘Safer at Home’ order issued by Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm this spring, violations of the Governor’s face covering order, standing alone, are not subject to criminal penalty. Instead, an intentional violation is enforceable through a civil forfeiture of no more than $200. Such a violation may be reported to a local public health official for follow-up or to a district attorney, who has statutory authority under Wis. Stat. § 978.05(2) to prosecute state forfeiture actions.”

“In issuing his order, the Governor cited the effectiveness of face coverings in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We will keep you updated about any legal developments. Note that the validity of the order is not controlled by the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm, 391 Wis. 2d 497, 942 N.W.2d 900 (2020). That decision addressed statutes in Chapter 252 that govern how Secretary-designee Palm carries out her duties as the DHS Secretary. Governor Evers’ emergency powers are under different statutes, in Chapter 323.”

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