Local officials discuss mask order enforcement; ask that residents not call 911 over masks

Local law enforcement officials said Thursday that they’re hoping the public will comply with Gov. Steve Bullock’s mask order in order to reduce conflict or the need for enforcement.

County Attorney Josh Racki said the order applies to indoor spaces that are open to the public and not outdoors when social distancing is achievable. It does not apply to people walking down the sidewalk without a mask, he said.

He said they realize there are conflicting opinions on masks, but ask the community for compliance so that businesses can remain open.
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Those businesses have the right to refuse service based on compliance with wearing masks, since the governor’s order puts the responsibility for enforcement on businesses, and Racki asked that people not take their frustration with the order out on businesses.

Racki, along with Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter and Great Falls Police Department Capt. John Schaffer, reminded residents not to call 911 to report violations of the mask order.

“911 is not the appropriate call to make over somebody not wearing a mask,” Slaughter said.
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Those complaints should be made to the Cascade County City-County Health Department by phone at 454-6950 or by email at health@cascadecountymt.gov.

Slaughter said the directives make it harder to ensure public safety while also upholding individual Constitutional rights, but asked that people comply so that businesses in the community can remain open.

In a July 17 letter, signed by 38 Montana sheriffs including Slaughter, they said “all value the rights afforded to us through the constitution and the privileges we have as Montana citizens. In order to keep moving forward, we all have to do our part. Personal responsibility is the only way we can keep our vulnerable citizens safe and our economy open. We will continue to focus our efforts on education and encourage citizens to make public health and safety related decisions based on your own personal circumstances and exposure to and interaction with vulnerable populations. Washing your hands, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks are all ways to take personal responsibility. The statewide face covering order is a public health directive. The directive is not a mandate for law enforcement to issue citations and arrest violators. As your locally elected Sheriffs, we will educate the public about the Governor’s mask directive. We urge you to take personal responsibility and be respectful of all Montana citizens.”
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Slaughter said there isn’t much they can do to enforce the order since it largely falls to the health department to enforce the rule with businesses.

“We are not going to be the mask police,” Slaughter said.

It’s up to businesses to enforce the order and if a person refuses to comply, the business can have them trespassed from the property. If a person becomes disorderly over masks, that becomes an issue of disorderly conduct or other criminal infractions, the officials said.

Racki said that if someone lodges a complaint with the health department about a business not enforcing the rule, the department would reach out talk to the business about compliance.

Should the business refuse to comply, there are provisions under the law to shut down the business.

“I don’t want to do that,” Racki said.