As city and state officials issue orders requiring people to wear masks in public to help stop the spread of coronavirus, some law enforcement officials say those mandates are difficult to enforce.
The executive orders often state violators of the rule can be fined or even sentenced to serve jail time.
But some law enforcement officials told NBC News the rules don’t have enough “teeth.”
“I don’t know how you enforce this,” Brian Higgins, a former chief of the Bergen County N.J. Police Department, told NBC News on Thursday, about his state’s mask mandate.
Higgins, who is now a college professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said Gov. Phil Murphy’s mask order “reads like it was thrown together in a hurry.”
A violation of the New Jersey mask rule is classified as a disorderly persons violation, which technically could result in a $1,000 fine, up to six months in jail or both. But the order doesn’t state whether police will be issuing tickets or arresting people who aren’t wearing masks.
“There’s no teeth to this,” he said.
During a Wednesday interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Gov. Murphy said violators would “at least get a warning, if not something stronger.”
A statement by Murphy’s spokesperson Alyana Alfaro-Post stated that “local law enforcement will monitor compliance, particularly in crowded situations.”
Higgins said he doesn’t think cops will want to get involved in policing masks.
“I am part of the chiefs association and when I touch base with them what I hear is 'I don’t want my cops involved in this, I don’t want my cops enforcing social distancing and masks,'” he said. “They’ve got other things to worry about.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered several counties seeing a surge in coronavirus cases to wear masks. But police officers say it is unlikely someone will be arrested if they choose not to wear one.
“We’re not going to solely arrest somebody because of a mask issue,” Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office told The Columbus Dispatch. “But we’re going to ask for compliance verbally. We’re going to do all that we can do to de-escalate the situation and hopefully just educate the person and send them on their way (and) possibly provide them with a mask that they can take with them.”
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