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By David Warren–
When Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order directed all residents wear a face covering when outdoors on June 18, Citrus Heights Police Chief Ron Lawrence was quoted saying, “The Citrus Heights Police Department will not be criminally enforcing the Governor’s Health Order requiring the use of face coverings or masks.”
I was recently shopping for food in Citrus Heights at a store which conspicuously posted multiple signs stating that customers would not be admitted without face coverings and also posted a teenager at the door to request that customers not enter the store without a face covering.
I watched as an adult screamed invectives and vulgarities at the teenage employee, who asked the customer to not enter the store without wearing a mask. The customer referenced both Sheriff Scott Jones and Chief Lawrence’s statements and said there was no law requiring the customer to face covering.
The customer ignored the store policy and the employee, and entered the store.
The same day I went to another store, which is one of the biggest retailers in the United States, for other items. Signs were prominently posted at the entrance to the store that customers were not allowed to enter unless they wore face covering.
Nonetheless, a man and woman entered the store, neither wearing a mask, who proceeded to the bakery and produce departments, hacking, coughing and sneezing over the produce and bakery products.
When I approached them and politely offered to provide them with a mask, they became angry and threatening, saying it was their constitutional right to not wear a mask, and no one was going to make them wear a mask. The woman said to me that she had read that the police chief was not going to enforce the mask requirement, so she could do whatever she wanted.
Evidently, neither of them realized that a business owner has the right to refuse admission to a business for any reasonable reason.
After I contacted the store’s national headquarters, the local manager called and explained that although the store would like to enforce the mask policy, the CHPD would not enforce the governor’s mandatory face covering order, and there was little that the store could do.
Subsequently, the CHPD published instructions to business owners indicating that police would not proactively enforce the governor’s order. The CHPD said it would respond to business owners’ requests to assist in removing customers who refuse directions to wear face covering, but would only take customers into custody if the business owner made a citizen’s arrest, with the attendant liability to the business owner.
Since the COVID-19 epidemic became known in the public domain, more Citrus Heights residents have become ill than homicides in Citrus Heights, including more than one fatality.
At the current pace of infection, it is likely that more residents will die from COVID-19 than from any criminal acts within the city this year. Yet, neither the City Council nor the city manager has insisted that the police enforce the governor’s face covering order.
Wearing a face covering in public is not now, nor has it ever been, a political issue. It is a public health matter.
Imagine the police ignoring a person wandering the city spraying Ebola bacteria, or a speaker attending a City Council meeting refusing to wear a mask while coughing and sneezing in the room.
Because of the COVID pandemic, City Hall and the Police Department building have been closed to public access to protect municipal employees from infection. The City Council refuses to hold public meetings to avoid infection, yet the city will not afford the public the same protection in public locations by adopting an ordinance which prevents individuals from entering public spaces without a face covering.
Although some have asserted they have a constitutional right to not wear a mask, in 1905, the Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts 197 U.S. 11 stated that states may exercise police powers to protect the public’s health and safety. Police powers include basic communicable disease control activities to protect the public against natural, accidental, or intentional threats, including a mandate to wear a face mask.
National political figures such as House of Representatives minority leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are urging people to wear masks to ensure public safety, as does U.S. Secretary of Health Alex Azar. Peer reviewed medical research has established the efficacy of preventing contagion by the universal use of face coverings.
Although there may be rationalizations for refusing to provide a financial sanction for those individuals who refuse to wear a face covering while in public or in a business, none are truly justifiable.
The enforcement of public and private business policies requiring the use of face covering aids every business in the city by preventing the very real risk that repeated business shut downs will be ordered. Citrus Heights residents and business employees should be able to be in a store free from fear that they may contract COVID-19 from an individual who refuses to wear a face covering.
Citrus Heights should adopt an ordinance which supports the CHPD enforcement of business-owners’ right to exclude customers who refuse to do so pursuant to Penal Code sections 601 or 602, without the need of a “citizen’s arrest.” When it becomes known that the CHPD intends to enforce face covering policies in public access locations and businesses, there will be fewer demands for police intervention.
It is an unfortunate reality that police officers are now called upon to enforce public health and social policies, far beyond the traditional scope of duty in enforcing penal laws. However, in that more people will die this year from COVID-19 than drunk driving, one can only hope that Chief Lawrence will reconsider his position on enforcing the governor’s face covering order to prevent infecting employees and customers with COVID-19.
Hopefully the City Council will notice an emergency meeting to enact an ordinance that requires face covering in public, which includes at the very least an escalating fine for repeat offenders for the failure to do so, as have other municipalities and states which are too numerous to mention.
David Warren is a Citrus Heights resident and a legislative advocate at the State Capitol with Taxpayers for Public Safety. He can be contacted at David@forpublicsafety.com.
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