ALEXANDRIA — One day after Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said he does not plan to enforce Gov. Eric Holcomb’s mask directive without some clarification, police chiefs in Alexandria and Pendleton posted their own mask enforcement policies on social media.
Alexandria police Chief Terry Richwine and Pendleton Police Chief Mark Farrer appeared to seek to discourage calls to central dispatch if the issue is simply someone refusing to wear a mask.
“At this time, the Alexandria Police Department shall not be enforcing the wearing (or lack thereof) of the virus protective masks,” Richwine wrote in a letter to Alexandria residents. “In response to any citizen complaint we might receive, our response shall be that while we recommend that all persons comply with the governor’s mask rule, we cannot legally enforce the wearing of a mask until we are provided with a law.”
They are among many law enforcement officials from around the state who have felt compelled to share their position on enforcing the mask directive with their communities.
The mask order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 goes into effect Monday. Holcomb issued the order Wednesday amid increasing numbers of Hoosiers testing positive and growing numbers of hospitalizations.
Though Alexandria police will not enforce the wearing of masks among the general public, all officers on duty will be wearing masks, Richwine said in the letter.
Farrer’s post on his department’s Facebook page went somewhat further, explaining that the department’s duty is to uphold the law and the Constitution and that the confusion about the legality of the governor’s order is frustrating. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said on Thursday that the order was not lawful.
“Unfortunately, this particular situation has a lot of gray in it since the governor himself made the mandate and then stated that the mask police will not be out,” he wrote. “This is like saying, ‘Well, the speed limit is 30 mph, but we don’t even try to enforce it.”
However, Farrer said he and his officers will enforce the mask order in the same way they enforced the governor’s non-essential travel put in place earlier this year. He said officers will not actively patrol for mask violations, and calling dispatch because of a simple disagreement over mask usage will not result in a response from Pendleton police.
“What will result in response by law enforcement is if the person calling acts in a way that is criminal or the person choosing not to wear a mask acts in a way that is criminal beyond not simply wearing the mask,” he said.
Farrer reminded residents that if they refuse to leave a business after being asked to do so, they could be arrested and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, battery “and possibly violation of the mask order.” Citing HIPAA rules is not enough, he added.
“My interpretation is that a private owned business can refuse to serve and ask that someone leave their property,” he said.