AUSTIN, Texas - Several law enforcement agencies said Governor Greg Abbott's new order mandating face coverings is unenforceable.
“There's some legitimate concern right now, with sheriffs across the State of Texas, on the language that the governor used,” said AJ Louderback, who sits in the President’s Commission in Law Enforcement.
It took effect Friday afternoon in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The order, which includes several exceptions, said officers are responsible for warning or citing anyone not wearing a face-covering inside a building open to the public, or in an outdoor setting where social distancing is not possible.
People 10 years old and under, those in counties with 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases, people with certain health conditions, those who are eating or drinking, and people actively exercising are exempt.
City, county and state officers are asked to enforce it.
“So we've got law enforcement business out here, we have legitimate concerns out here, we've got criminals running around here and, being a mask policeman, so to speak, it's not really what they signed up for,” Louderback said.
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Louderback said the enforcement issue all comes down to one sentence. “We're supporting the governor on this. It's just, we have some concerns about the order that he's given in the use of the words, ‘we shall not detain,’” said Louderback.
The exact wording in the governor's order reads: "...But no law enforcement or other official may detain, arrest, or confine in jail any person for a violation of this executive order..."
A first violation can result in a warning, any additional violations are punishable by a $250 fine.
A training bulletin sent to Austin police officers encourages them to use "cite and release" policies when dealing with face-covering violations.
However, because officers cannot detain, meaning they cannot stop someone for questioning, Louderback said the person in violation can simply just walk away.
“How are we supposed to say, ‘Listen ma'am, sir, stop for a minute, I'd like to talk to you. You don't have a mask on.’ How am I going to write you a ticket for that?” Louderback said.
The governor's office has not responded to requests for clarity on the language and enforcement expectations of his face covering order.
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