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.
A number of area police departments have requested that the public contact Summit County Public Health with complaints about businesses, but will respond if businesses are having an issue with a customers.
"Businesses have always been required to do their best to protect their customers and employees," Stow police said in a July 11 Facebook post. "Businesses can require that proper attire be worn in their business. Remember the phrase, ‘No shirt, No shoes ... No service?’
"So, if a business posts at the entrance to their business that a mask or appropriate facial covering is required to enter/shop, then you need to comply with the posting. If a person refuses, the business has the right to refuse service to that person(s) and they can request that person(s) leave.
If a person(s) refuse to leave then they are now trespassing. A store employee with proper authority can call the Stow Police Department to request assistance with the person(s) committing the crime of trespassing. The Stow Police Department will respond to trespassing violations and enforce (as needed).
"Charging someone with trespassing is not our preferred course of action, and we would ask for everyone's cooperation."
Munroe Falls Police Chief Jerry Hughes did not respond to requests for comment.
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.
According to information supplied by the health department, it received approximately 200 complaints about various locations countywide from July 10 to the morning of July 13, though only some allegations were mask related while others involved other alleged issues. Of these complaints, a dozen were for Stow, of which eight involved alleged masking violations. One location received three complaints and another two and one of the Stow complaints was about people going door to door without wearing masks.
None of the 200 or so complaints were about locations in Munroe Falls.
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 and 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 July 9 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. on July 10.
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 6 feet 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.
Tallmadge police posted comments similar to those of Stow on their Facebook page.
"Please keep in mind that businesses have the right to enforce this mandate in their establishments," the post says. "If patrons do not abide by the requirements and are asked to leave, refusal to do so may result in a trespassing violation."
Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis said, "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."
Other police departments have adopted a similar stance.
"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 July 10 written statement.
"We are not the mask police," Macedonia police posted on their Facebook page on July 10. adding that police will respond if businesses are having an issue with a customer, but the public is asked to call the health department, not the police, with complaints.
Likewise, Twinsburg Police Chief Chris Noga posted on the police department’s Facebook page on July 9 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."
Summit County Sheriff’s Inspector Bill Holland said the sheriff’s office 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."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.