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At least 8 CO police departments won’t enforce mask rules: ‘We aren’t the mask police’

N95 face masks. (Pixnio/Released)
July 20, 2020

Multiple Colorado police departments have announced they won’t take on the responsibility of strictly enforcing a new coronavirus mask order imposed by Gov. Jared Polis, and said it’s up to businesses and public health departments to ensure their patrons wear masks.

The El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder was the first to break down his department’s stance on the mask order on Friday, one day after Polis announced his order. In a video, Elder said it’s the responsibility of a business to refuse services to customers that are in violation of the mask order.

“It isn’t a responsibility for law enforcement to go out and enforce the mask order, it’s a responsibility for the owner, operator or manager of the indoor space to require those patrons or visitors or otherwise to wear a mask,” he said. “When I said we’re not going to enforce the mask order, that’s what I meant, we’re not going to be the mask police.”

Elder explained that if a business calls the sheriff’s office over a customer not wearing a mask, his office would still help the business and will give a violator who refuses to leave a court summons for criminal trespass, but it remains up to that person whether they will wear a mask.

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NBC 11 News reported that sheriffs for Mesa County, Delta County, Weld County, and Elbert County had also announced the decision to make enforcing the mask mandate a low-priority. The various county sheriffs indicated they will follow a similar path as the El Paso County Sheriff, focusing on education, asking violators to put on a mask, and then escalating to a trespass charge if the violator continues refusing to wear the mask.

The Coloradoan also reported Fort Collins Police Services would focus on educating people on the issue of mask compliance. Officer Erin Feit said “officers will not be proactively conducting enforcement related to the face covering order.”

Feit said those wishing to report mask violations should call the Larimer County health department rather than the police department. Larimer County Sheriff’s Office spokesman David Moore also said it would refer cases to the county health department.

“The LPD will avoid writing tickets and rely on warnings with an emphasis on educating the public and gaining a high level of compliance through raising the community’s sense of responsibility,” Loveland Police Department Lt. Bob Shaffer told the Coloradoan.

A spokesman for Gov. Polis’ office did seek to clarify the state mask mandate as well, noting the intent of the order was to subject violators to trespass charges.

“What the statewide mask order also provides is clarity on the message that if you are in public you need to wear a mask.  There may be a time when a customer refuses to wear a mask and refuses to leave, which would set up a trespass situation, a state criminal charge rather than a public health order charge,” the statement continued. “We hope that law enforcement remains responsive to situations like that to support the businesses in their community just like they did prior to the pandemic.”