While state and local health officials are urging people to follow state and local mandates to wear face coverings, Rocky Mount Police Chief George Robinson said the role of Rocky Mount police is to educate people concerning the need for masks.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order requiring the use of face coverings beginning June 23. A proclamation by the City of Rocky Mount issued just prior to the executive order went into effect the same day.
The city’s proclamation states that “all persons who are present within the jurisdiction of the City of Rocky Mount are required to wear a clean face covering any time they are, or will be, in contact with other people who are not household members in public or private spaces where it is not possible to maintain social distance or where social distancing practices are not being followed. These spaces include grocery stores, pharmacies, business locations, parking lots, sidewalks and public transit.”
But enforcement of the proclamation is not included in the statement from the city.
In response to questions from the Telegram, Robinson clarified the position that the city is taking regarding the enforcement of the mask ordinance.
Robinson was asked if people would be refused entry to city facilities or public transportation if they are not wearing a mask.
In response, he said, “We encourage all of our citizens that visit any city facility to wear a face covering for their safety and the safety of others.”
Robinson also said that the issuing of citations or fines is not the purpose of the proclamation.
“As stated in section 3 (implementation) of the proclamation, the intent is to encourage voluntary compliance with the requirements established for businesses and persons within the City of Rocky Mount. Law enforcement and other public safety and emergency management personnel are strongly encouraged to educate and encourage voluntary compliance with this order,” Robinson said.
While the city proclamation does not allow for enforcement, the state executive order does allow for some degree of enforcement for businesses that do not cooperate, Robinson said.
“As of now, our intent is to inform and educate our citizens on the importance of wearing a face covering,” Robinson said. “However, Executive Order 147 provides the following guidelines for law enforcement: ‘Citations under this section shall be written only to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce the requirement to wear face coverings. Operators of businesses and organizations are entitled to rely on their customers’ or patrons’ statements about whether or not they are excepted from the face covering requirements, and businesses and organizations do not violate this executive order if they rely on such statements.’”
If people refuse to leave an establishment that seeks to enforce the executive order, law enforcement officers can enforce trespassing laws. However, the executive order states that law enforcement personnel are not authorized to criminally enforce the face covering requirements of the executive order against individual workers, customers or patrons.
If any city resident wishes to report a violation of the city’s proclamation or the state’s executive order, Robinson urges them to call the police department’s non-emergency number.
“Those that wish to report possible violations may do so by contacting the Rocky Mount Police Department. Officers will respond and access the situation. Officers will then educate those which may be in violation of the guidelines set forth in Executive Order 147,” Robinson said.
While some residents are reluctant to wear masks, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Thursday that people need to be especially cautious over the holiday weekend as more gatherings are likely to occur.
“This isn’t where I’d hoped we’d be for July Fourth weekend,” Cohen said. “And unfortunately, we don’t get a holiday from COVID-19.”