AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin police officers are encouraged to enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask order, citing people who don’t wear a mask in public after a first-time warning, the Austin Police Association’s leader says he doesn’t agree with orders for officers to do so.
APA President Ken Casaday says like some other law enforcement agencies across Texas, he feels the governor’s order could be interpreted in a way that would make it unlawful for officers to write citations.
The governor’s order states, “Following a verbal or written warning for a first-time violator of this face covering requirement, a person’s second violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. Each subsequent violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation.”
However, the order also states, “No law enforcement or other official may detain, arrest, or confine in jail any person for a violation of this executive order or for related non-violent, non-felony offenses that are predicated on a violation of this executive order.”
Casaday says because the order says law enforcement can’t detain someone for violating the order, he believes they technically can’t hold people long enough to write them citations.
“You could give that document to eight different attorneys and they might give you eight different opinions,” Casaday said, adding that officers will enforce the order, even if some in the department disagree with it. “The way we read it was one way, and our boss, the Chief, and his attorneys read it another way, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing now, even though I disagree and our attorneys disagree.”
Casaday says he’s also concerned that the order disproportionately targets those in poor, often minority communities who suffer language and education barriers when it comes to being informed about the coronavirus and related orders, or who can’t afford to buy masks for their families.
Referring to APD officers, he said, “It’s very hard for them to grasp the city council and the activists beating them over the head for the last two months, especially on writing poor people citations, specifically of color, and then to have us go out and start writing $250 tickets for the same individuals after they’ve just criticized us for writing tickets to them for the past month.”
Casaday says he also worries calling out officers to respond to reports of people not wearing masks could increase their likelihood of contracting the virus.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley sent out a training bulletin to officers on Thursday, advising them on how to respond to mask calls and enforce the order. To avoid unnecessary contact with people during the pandemic, Austin police officers have been instructed to ask callers whether the person who isn’t wearing a mask is outside or within six feet of others.
In the training bulletin, Chief Manley outlined how APD officers can enter mask warnings into the department’s digital system, so that any officer can tell whether someone’s already been warned once for not wearing a mask in public.
Casaday says he’s not sure that all other local agencies have the same capability to keep track of warnings digitally.