Attention Readers: We're Back
C&G Newspapers is pleased to have resumed publication. For the time being, our papers will publish on a biweekly basis as we work toward our return to weekly papers. In between issues, and anytime, continue to find local news on our website and look for us on Facebook and Twitter.

Farmington, Hills police remain focused on education, not enforcement for new mask mandate

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published July 21, 2020

Shutterstock image

Advertisement

FARMINGTON/HILLS — A lot of aspects of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan have been questioned, some being argued as unconstitutional, but none so heatedly as mask orders.

Some health experts have reported that wearing a mask can reduce transmitting the virus by about 70%, but for some Michiganders, the jury is still out as to whether the measure actually works, which can make it difficult for local law enforcement at times to enforce rules.

Some people who object to mandatory masks have cited the CDC’s reversal from its original stance that masks wouldn’t help stop the pandemic, fears that masks may make it too hard to breathe or don’t actually work, and a belief that the mandate is an overreach or a violation of their rights.

On July 10, Whitmer used her executive powers to order the requirement that masks be worn in all public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces starting July 13, carrying the penalty of a misdemeanor charge and a $500 fine.

 

Education over enforcement
Local police have said enforcement will be their last option in attempting to gain compliance.

“Our policy, as has been with many of the other executive orders, is to respond and investigate with a focus on advising, educating, assisting and achieving voluntary compliance,” said Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King. “Only in the extreme circumstances where there’s an immediate threat to safety or a situation that presents danger would we take enforcement action.”

“Monitoring social media, it’s clear that the majority of the community is in support of this (order), and quite honestly, in support of the fact that law enforcement, we’re not the mask police,” Farmington Public Safety Director Frank Demers added. “We’re definitely going to be there to support our businesses in the event things become a problem ... by taking the tack of education and learning and getting people to voluntarily comply.

“That is our goal. We don’t want to have to take a hard stance on taking enforcement action on everyone, because quite honestly, there is ambiguity in the law,” he said, adding that he believes the primary responsibility falls on business owners to enforce the mandate in their individual storefronts.

Demers said a lot of ambiguity in the executive order comes from the medical stipulations and HIPAA regulations that restrict business owners or law enforcement from asking for proof of medical history.

While neither Farmington Public Safety officers or Farmington Hills police had any reports of maskless violators at press time, Demers said enforcement action from his department would likely lead not only to the misdemeanor charge, but a trespassing charge on top of that.

“The vast majority of complaints that we respond to are unfounded or the ones that do have some element of not being in 100% compliance with the executive orders, through that process of advising them, explaining and educating them, and doing what we can to assist our citizens, they themselves are very apologetic and immediately comply,” King said of the roughly two or three executive order-related calls his department has been seeing on average per shift.

When it comes to calling in a complaint, Demers believes “there’s a certain amount of homework folks need to do in order to make sure that they’ve got a good grasp on what these executive orders and parameters really are.”

 

Well within their rights
The Farmington and Farmington Hills departments aren’t alone in their enforcement decision related to mask wearing. While the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t said it won’t enforce the mask mandate, deputies will continue to refer reports to the county’s Health Division, as opposed to issuing tickets on-site for that particular violation.

“Nothing has changed from day one for us… The governor’s newest order regarding the masks will fall under already long established OCSO protocols. We will respond to complaints which come into our dispatch center as we respond to all calls for service,” Undersheriff Mike McCabe said. “If there is a possible violation, it is sent to the Health Division. The Health Division then decides what action they will take and whether or not to forward to the Attorney General.”

That might sound like local law enforcement is attempting to avoid having to strictly enforce the new mandate, but according to Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor David Tarrien, departments are well within their rights to proceed this way.

“They have that prosecutorial discretion. We see that day to day when an officer decides not to arrest or charge someone for marijuana,” he said. “It’s a little unusual to put forth a blanket policy or blanket statement to say they would never prosecute, but they’re still within their rights.”

Tarrien said the courts have been supportive of Whitmer’s power to go forward with the mandatory mask order.

 

No disruptions to service
Despite the possibility of some additional calls for service or complaints about executive order violations coming in during this time, neither King nor Demers is worried it will disrupt their normal operations and ability to serve the public.

“We have not seen any challenges, (and) we don’t anticipate any challenges. We’ve always enjoyed a sufficient staffing level and officers … either working with community members or taking enforcement action when necessary,” King said. “Even with the executive orders, we’ve had relatively low call volumes in regards to that when compared to our normal call volume. … We’ve been able to absorb any kind of additional operational or resource needs on our staffing, and we haven’t been unable to respond to those calls.”

In Farmington, Demers said a reactive rather than proactive approach to the new mandate has left little change in his department.

“We aren’t sending officers out into the fields for compliance checks. We’re basically sort of in a reactive mode to the executive order, certainly by no means proactive,” he said. “If someone calls us with a complaint, we respond and try to address it, but we’re not actively going into businesses and ensuring people are wearing masks.”

For more information on Whitmer’s latest executive order, visit michigan.gov/coronavirus.

Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki contributed to this report.

Advertisement