Jasper police are now approaching people to wear their masks under the state COVID-19 mandates - and, if citizens don't comply, will also start issuing tickets and making arrests.
Revenue Compliance Officer Brent McCarver said Wednesday local enforcement of the state mask ordinance became more proactive on the issue this week. He said Mayor David O'Mary and Police Chief J.C. Poe had held discussions Friday and were both on board to approach people if necessary.
"The police are going to begin asking you to put your mask on if you don't have it on," McCarver said.
McCarver said the police will not look for the problem, but if it is encountered, they will write citations or make arrests if it comes to that.
"The police department feels like there has certainly been enough time" since Gov. Kay Ivey's mask ordinance was issued since mid-July, he said. "There has been enough coddling, begging and pleading. So they will start enforcing this order."
Most law enforcement in the area has taken a hands-off attitude, as Ivey herself indicated people would not necessarily be ticketed. However, some people seen in public have not been seen with masks in the state, or have only had the mask on halfway. Viral videos from across the nation have shown angry people protesting their constitutional rights have been violated as they have been escorted out of a store for not wearing a required mask.
According to the state health order, at food establishments and retail food stores, including restaurants, each employee "shall wear a mask or other facial covering that covers his or her nostrils and mouth at all times in regular interaction with patrons and guests."
At the same time, he said there have been "some cases" where local officers have been approaching people about the masks. He noted some employees or others in Jasper restaurants have been approached by Jasper police to wear masks.
"In most times, everyone complies," he said.
The reason this is being done now, is that the mayor and council support the governor's proclamation and Jasper police are required to enforce it, which acts to help the Alabama Department of Public Health, among others, McCarver said.
Moreover, if a restaurant were not to comply with orders and health inspectors were to revoke a state food permit at a restaurant as a result, that permit is required for a business license. That, in turn, could put in jeopardy the operation of the whole restaurant, as the city might have to revoke the business license.
"We haven't faced that yet, but it could happen," he said. "Then that falls over to Jasper police, because they are the enforcement arm. They would come get a warrant. Jasper (police) would serve a warrant and they would close it. At that point, you are in violation of several different things."
He said, "We have to be sure that all the citizens of Jasper basically understand we have to enforce the order." He said publicizing this again now makes everyone aware that tickets are about to start coming.
"By and large, most people understand the order," he said, and he said there is police discretion, such as when you drive about 3 mph over the speed limit. "It will be like that with the masks," he said.
One of the things the city is facing are posts on social media that one doesn't have to follow the law, or that it is unconstitutional. He noted the mayor nor the Jasper City Council didn't issue the order, as it is a state health order that came from the governor with assistance from the state health officer.
"It is an executive order and it is binding on citizens," McCarver said, regardless of how anyone feels about it. "It comes from the Alabama Emergency Act of 1955 (a state act), which allows the governor of the state and the state health officer in an emergency situation to enact, basically for the protection of society for societal norm, to enact different measures for a period of time."
Even though Jasper police are part of Jasper's local government, McCarver noted they are "sworn law enforcement in the State of Alabama. They have to enforce the state laws."
He pointed to a section of the latest extension of the Safer at Home order on Aug. 27, which extends the overall order to Nov. 8. It states, "The law-enforcing authorities of the state shall enforce that order as any other order, rule or regulation promulgated by the Governor under the Act, see id. 31-9-14 (of the Code of Alabama), and the penalty for violating it shall be a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment in the county jail as set forth in the Act, see, e.g. id. 31-9-22."
That order includes a number of amendments to the order throughout the year, including the mask ordinance, although the mask order is separately to be reviewed on Oct. 2 again. At that time it could be extended.
"J.C. Poe doesn't get to say, 'We don't think that is a good rule,'" McCarver said. "As he says, they enforce the law. They don't make the law."
McCarver said when an officer finds someone in an establishment and sees someone is not wearing a mask, the officer has the right to ask someone to put the mask on. If one refuses, the officer has the right to right a ticket or arrest the person.
"This is not a statement on the intelligence of the act, or the order, or against it. We're not for or against it, or whatever. It is just something that has to be enforced. It's what the health department put out there," he said.
He said stores have rights to also protect employees and customers by requiring masks and taking other steps from customers and employees. McCarver also noted if a business, such as a restaurant, is going to remain open, it has to comply with regulations - such as the mask order.
"If you come in with no mask, they are supposed to tell you that you have to have a mask to be in here," he said. Even in restaurants, one is supposed to wear a mask to enter the building until they get to their table.
"The business has the right to operate, but the business still has to comply," he said. If the business won't require patrons to wear masks, the city would have the right to close the business.
"We're not going to want to. We're not going to go look for that. But the business needs to help law enforcement," he said, noting some businesses have even given away cheaper masks at the door if customers don't have a mask.
"All you've got to do is you've got to tell people to wear a mask until they get to their table," he said. "If you shop in Bernard's, you've got to have a mask to shop in there."
McCarver said football games comes under the order and police will step in to work with the school system enforce the rule as needed, much as they step in to help businesses.
He noted Jasper's football stadium is odd, in that at 50 percent capacity - maybe 2,500 people - the home side could be near packed while the visitor side could be nearly empty. He thinks most times the crowd usually would be at maybe 1,100 people.
He noted temperatures are also taken as you enter and you are told to wear masks. A school employee will tell people in line at the concession stand they have to wear a mask.
"I don't know a whole lot more" that could be done at the local games, he said. McCarver did note home people can also sit on the visitors side to help with distancing, and latecomers should respect seating distance from those who come earlier.
According to the state order, worshiping at places of worship and voting are exempted from face covering requirements, although they are "strongly encouraged." From one's car to their pew, those worshipping should wear a mask, McCarver said.
Churches do fall under non-work related gathering rules, he said, noting families could be 6 feet (or two seats) away from each other. "We're not the Gestapo. Nobody's is coming into a church service on Sunday morning with a measuring tape," he said.
McCarver noted many citizens stressed or burned out from COVID-19, with information changing almost daily. He said the city officials are trying to keep up with those changes, too, give truthful information and comply with state mandates to enforce.