Some South Arkansas law enforcement agencies don’t plan to fully enforce face mask mandate, Governor isn’t forcing them to either

Arkansas News

EL DORADO, Ark. (07/20/20) — The face mask mandate begins today for Arkansans but some law enforcement officers don’t plan to enforce this new order.

A statement released by El Dorado Police Department’s Chief of Police, Kenny Hickman, is getting mixed feelings from the public.

Chief Hickman issued a statement Sunday night to Facebook regarding Governor Hutchinson’s mask mandate:

With reference to the recent Executive Order 20-43, regarding mandatory face masks, The El Dorado Police Department will not be enforcing the order. Our resources are irretrievably dedicated to tasks and responsibilities that are already before us.

We urge citizens and guests to join us in honoring the policies of all local businesses. Our officers will observe all businesses’ mask policies whether on duty or off unless prohibited by an extreme emergency. Owners and managers who stand as representatives of the establishments have the “authority and right” to require masks be worn upon entry. They also have “the right” to ask one to leave their property if their requirements are not met.

As a general practice our officers will not be required to wear masks while attending to their duties. It is our belief that “a mask is inhibitory to the ability to safely and effectively perform our job duty”. The above quotation is based upon an exemption listed in The Governor’s Order. One example is that a mask can significantly inhibit communication both verbal and non-verbal. That is a compromise we cannot afford to include as a general practice. Our officers will observe “social distancing” whenever possible.

These are trying times for everyone. We can all work together to remove some of the angst with a kind word and measure of common courtesy.

“I agree with them,” Smackover resident, Dustin Howe said. “It’s not enough of them for us.”

The mandate allows officers to issue verbal or written warnings to adults and children under 18 years of age if they are caught without wearing a face covering when social distancing is feasible.

Violation of a directive from the Secretary of Health during this public health emergency is considered a misdemeanor offense and a person can be issued a fine between $100-$500.

Chief Hickman said not only does this put a strain on his officers but it’s also not easy to enforce. Senator Trent Garner agreed as he mentioned the trouble will come if departments are inconsistent with the enforcement.

“They are over stressed because of the protective measures in place because of the pandemic, because of some of the civil unrest, protesting, the pressures they feel from that to do the right thing and just the general case load they’re dealing with,” Senator Garner said.

Also joining the El Dorado Police Department in its response to the mandate are Union and Ashley County Sheriff’s Departments and police agencies in Crossett, Camden and Lake Village.

They don’t plan to issue citations or warnings to those seen in public not wearing their masks nor they do plan to walk and patrol the streets looking for those not abiding by the rule. They do however plan to respond to businesses if there are any issues.

“We will respond only if its necessary although this agency encourages the use of protection in public places,” Lake Village Police Chief Percy Wilburn said.

Officers will ask the patron to leave the business or wear a mask and if further resistance continues, that person will be charged with criminal trespassing.

According to Union County Sheriff Ricky Roberts, after Governor Hutchinson made his announcement Thursday afternoon of the mandate, several sheriff’s across the state began voicing their opposition of enforcing the mandate.

The following day, Governor Hutchinson held a conference call with sheriff’s deputies where they shared their thoughts.

“While Covid-19 is a serious virus, it will be up to each individual to help stop the spreading,” Sheriff Ricky Roberts said.

Governor Hutchinson has stated he doesn’t want to enforce this mandate on law enforcement officers.

“All of these decisions in terms of enforcement are subject to local priorities,” he said. “It’s only an option they can utilize to educate, enforce and make sure we all stay healthy in our community.”

Every person in Arkansas to wear a face covering over the mouth and nose in all indoor environments where they are exposed to non-household members and distancing of six (6) feet or more cannot be assured.

In addition, face coverings all must be worn in all outdoor settings where there is exposure to non-household members, unless there is social distancing.

Senator Trent Garner believes Governor Hutchinson is doing a great job in responding to the coronavirus in the state but wished he had considered lawmaker’s decisions before making this mandate public.

“The executive order in my opinion is poorly written. There are a bunch of exemptions that are hard to enforce,” Senator Garner said. “

“You can have a health reason for not wearing a mask but under different federal and state protections, I’m not allowed to ask you about your health status so if you come in and have a health reason how do they determine if you have a health condition or not.”

Since this is the law of the land right now, Garner is asking citizens to respect business owners and others who are doing what they can to keep themselves safe.

“If you can do that and make people feel more comfortable especially our businesses who are trying to enforce the department of health’s mandate and this new mandate I think that’s a good thing,” he said.

The mandate will expire until the state-wide emergency is lifted.

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