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How Are Police Enforcing Mask Orders?

Photo by Brian Asare.

Buncombe County – NC Governor Roy Cooper, back from a re-election win in the 2020 election, has in Executive Order #180 tightened mask restrictions giving local law enforcement the power to fine businesses not following the mandate. Also, in Executive Order #181, enacted Friday, December 11, he gave the public a curfew.

Order #180 says, “Law enforcement officers may cite a business or organization that failed to enforce the requirement to wear face coverings.” So, how is the mask mandate being enforced in different law enforcement jurisdictions in Buncombe County?

City of Asheville

The Tribune asked Asheville Police Department spokesperson Christina Hallingse that question, who replied in an email, “The Asheville Police Department has not issued any citations regarding Executive Order 180. Buncombe County has a task force designed to encourage business compliance.” She further stated, “For questions specifically pertaining to the order I encourage you to visit” adding a web address to the EO 180.

She then indicated the city police might be relying on the county for enforcement, adding, “For questions regarding enforcement and Buncombe County restrictions, please contact Fletcher Tove, Preparedness and Security Officer, Buncombe County Health and Human Services.”

Asheville Police Department has been hit hard this year by retirements and resignation in the wake of protests and calls to defund the police and the department is shorthanded in the aftermath of so many leaving the department.

A phone call to Tove and an email to his department with questions about enforcement went unreturned as of press time.

Town of Weaverville

The Weaverville Police is embracing the governor’s call for enforcement of the mask mandate. According to Weaverville Police Chief Ron Davis, his department has received 34 complaints about businesses in the town. His department is actively warning those businesses about the ramifications of not wearing masks.

Davis said enforcement is strictly complaint-driven, and the department is not out making inspections of businesses. Asked, for a business owner what is their liability, do they have to wear a mask themselves or do they also have to make their customers wear masks? Davis replied, “Yes. Section 2 of Executive Order 181, which goes into effect December 11, addresses face coverings: ‘Section 2. Face Coverings. For the avoidance of doubt, this Section generally requires North Carolinians to wear Face Coverings in public places, both indoors and outdoors.’ (This is referenced on pages 10-11 of Order 181, but this is addressed exhaustively throughout the majority of the Order).”

A follow-up question for Davis asked if they also have to ensure their customers wear masks, what if a customer says they have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, do they have to produce some kind of doctor’s note? He said, “No. Section 2.4.a of Order 181 provides an exception for a face covering ‘due to any medical or behavioral condition or disability.’ Section 2.4 of Order 181 also states that individuals are not required to produce documentation of a medical condition.”

Davis was asked what happens on a business owner’s first offense? According to Davis, “The initial enforcement action is a visit to the business to notify them that we have received a complaint and to provide a copy of the Executive Order, offering assistance as to how the business can come into compliance.”

Asked what happens after the business owner’s first offense? Davis said,

“If an additional complaint is received, an officer makes a second enforcement visit to determine if indeed the business remains non-compliant. A business may be counseled regarding future enforcement actions.”

Davis said no businesses had received a citation or a fine as of this report, but several businesses have received visits and warning letters from his department. He also said no individuals had been cited.

Davis added, “We have provided information with copies of the executive orders, question & answers and laminated fliers to businesses to help educate everyone about the mandates. Also, a portable LED signboard has been placed in different high-volume locations to reach as many citizens as possible. Lastly, in completing our enforcement visits, it appears that most people are willing to come into compliance with the orders issued.”

Town of Woodfin

“The Woodfin Police Department wants everyone to be safe and healthy as we approach this holiday season. With the Governor’s new Executive Orders 180 and 181, there are many parts that each of us can comply with to do our part,” said Woodfin Police Chief Michael Dykes.

“All enforcement of these new provisions is complaint-driven,” he explained. “It is our goal to gain compliance through education and dialogue. If a business is not complying with the mandate, we will speak with the owner to rectify the situation. If education efforts are fruitless, then we have the option of citing the business owner with a criminal compliance violation.”

As for customers who do not wear masks, Dykes said, “The business is responsible for enforcing the executive order. Patrons not wearing masks can be asked to leave. Those refusing to leave can be cited for trespassing. If an individual claims to have a medical exemption, they are not required to show any paperwork to verify that but limited questions may be asked to see if the exemption is in line with those listed.”

He then outlined his department’s enforcement of the order. “On a business’ first offense, again, we will try to gain compliance through education. After a first offense, we will evaluate each situation and then react accordingly. A second complaint may be a different type of offense (exceeding occupancy limits, masked employees, alcohol restrictions, etc.). We will try to work with business owners to address the actual offense, not just how many times we have been called to a business.”

As for how many businesses have been cited, Dykes said, “As of today, no business owners have been cited in the Town of Woodfin. Also, with the enactment of Executive Order 181, no individuals have been cited since it went into effect on Friday, December 11.”

“We understand these are trying times. As families begin to come together for holiday events, we ask that everyone think of others. Wear a mask, if not for your benefit then for the sake of others. Be cautious at family gatherings, especially if you are around high-risk individuals,” stated Dykes. “And most importantly, be kind and patient. Together, we will get through this, but it will take respect and cooperation from all.”

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