NORTH SUMMIT COUNTY — Area police departments say that while they will respond if businesses are having issues with people not following the state’s new mandatory mask order, they will not be actively enforcing the rule.
"Although we support the initiative to wear a mask or face covering to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Hudson Police Department will not respond to calls of related to persons not wearing masks/ facial coverings unless there are other exigent circumstances," Police Chief Perry Tabak said in a written statement on Friday.
He asked that the public not call the dispatch center with such complaints.
"Businesses can require persons to wear a mask or facial covering. If a person refuses, the business has the right to ask that person to leave. If a person refuses to leave when asked, the Hudson Police Department will enforce any trespassing violations. This is not our preferred course of action, and we would ask for everyone’s cooperation."
Other police departments have made similar statements.
"We are not the mask police," Macedonia police posted on their Facebook page on Friday. "Please do not call our dispatch center with complaints of subject violating this order. Contact Summit County Public Health. However, businesses do have the right to require persons in their establishments to wear masks. If subjects refuse to abide by the businesses requirements we will enforce trespassing violations."
Likewise, Twinsburg Police Chief Chris Noga posted on the police department’s Facebook page on Thursday that the department will not respond to individual complaints.
"Under this order, businesses can require persons to wear a mask or facial covering," Noga wrote. "If a person refuses, the business has the right to ask that person to leave. If a person refuses to leave when asked, our officers will enforce any trespassing violations.This is obviously not something that we want to do, so we are asking for everyone’s continued patience and cooperation."
Summit County Sheriff’s Inspector Bill Holland said the sheriff’s office, which polices Northfield Center and Twinsburg townships, also will not be going out of its way on enforcement.
"Our deputies will respond to calls for service as they normally would," he said. "If the call involves a mask violation, they will take a report and refer it to Summit County Public Health."
The county’s health department agrees that the police are not on the front line in enforcing the order.
"The businesses really are responsible when they see individuals entering their businesses without masking," said Marlene Martin, a spokesperson for Summit County Public Health. "What happens is people can make complaints against a facility. So if I go into a facility and see that people aren’t masking and the business is not enforcing them to mask, then I can make a complaint with the health department."
Martin said complaints can be made to a health department call center at 330-926-5795 or by going to https://www.scph.org and filling out a complaint form.
As of Monday morning, the health department had received about 200 complaints about businesses countywide, though only some were mask related while others involved other alleged issues, such as improper cleaning and sanitizing of facilities.
On receiving a complaint, the health department will generally call a business first, or make a visit if it received a lot of complaints. If a business continually refuses to comply, the health department could issue a citation or even go to court to have a judge issue an injunction against the business. If the business sells alcoholic beverages to the public, the health department may report violations to the Ohio Liquor Board.
"It just depends on the level of the threat," said Elizabeth Foster, the department’s epidemiology & data surveillance supervisor. "A lot of times, we’re really just trying to bring them into compliance without fines or anything like that. We’re still kind of working through what the enforcement looks like for us with the new order."
Gov. Mike Dewine announced Thursday that Summit County along with several other counties had advanced from Risk Level 2/Orange to Risk Level 3/Red, triggering the order for mandatory masking that went into effect at 6 p.m. Friday.
Under the order, masks must be worn when in any indoor location that is not a residence; outdoors when unable to consistently maintain a distance of six feel or more from individuals who are not members of their household; waiting for, riding, driving or operating public transportation, a taxi, a private car service or ride sharing vehicle. The state defines a business subject to this order as any for-profit, non-profit, educational or non-federal government entity.
Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis said Monday that, "We will respond to calls from stores and businesses that are having problems with customers that refuse to leave the premises if asked. We will be referring other complaints to the Summit County Health Department. Enforcement will be the last resort."
Stow and Tallmadge police have posted similar comments on their Facebook pages.
"Businesses have always been required to do their best to protect their customers and employees, Businesses can require that proper attire be worn in their business," Stow police posted. "Remember the phrase, ‘No shirt, No shoes...No service’?"
"We ask that you do not flood the dispatch center with calls of individuals violating this order," posted Tallmadge police. "Be assured, TPD will be involved when necessary."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.