Sauk County area municipal police departments say they will not handle complaints regarding Gov. Tony Evers’ face mask mandate and instead will refer all complaints to the Sauk County Health Department.
Sauk County Health Department Health Officer Tim Lawther said he met with Sauk County Emergency Management, local law enforcement, the sheriff and district attorney July 31 to discuss measures of enforcement of the mandate.
Lawther said all agreed the goal with the order is to use it as an opportunity to educate people instead of punishing people with fines.
“We also talked about the process if there is a situation where the blatant disregard of the order is causing very demonstrative and clear problems and it’s an ongoing problem that is not being addressed then we will take that to the district attorney’s office and we will talk about what our options are for the civil forfeiture fine,” he said.
Lawther said the district attorney will work with the public health department to determine what can and can’t be done within the order and investigate matters on a case-by-case basis.
Lawther said a hotline has been set up for people to call about face masks complaints at 608-355-3200. He said to not call 911 or non-emergency police dispatch phone numbers to report potential face mask violations to free up the lines for emergency response.
Police chiefs with the Sauk Prairie and Reedsburg police departments say it will focus on the educational aspect of wearing a face covering, which has been shown to limit the spread of COVID-19. The Lake Delton Police Department announced through its Facebook page July 31 after consulting with the local District Attorney’s Office and reviewing the executive order, any calls or complaints related to face coverings should not be directed to the department or any other agency.
The post says any complaints or concerns should be directed to the governor’s office, Wisconsin Department of Public Health or the Sauk County Health Department. The Lake Delton Police Department did not want to give further comment. The Wisconsin Dells Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Gov. Tony Evers issued on executive order July 30 requiring all citizens ages five and older to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces, like bars, outdoor restaurants and public transit vehicles and outdoor park structures from Aug. 1 until Sept. 28. The law lists some exceptions for eating and drinking, communicating with an individual who is hard of hearing or deaf, according to the order. There are no criminal penalties but those who violate the order could face a $200 fine.
Reedsburg Police Chief Patrick Cummings said the Reedsburg Police Department will not issue citations with the order and will focus on the educational aspect to bring awareness of the executive order. Any complaints an officer receives while on patrol or at the dispatch center will be directed to the Sauk County Health Department.
“We will not be citing people for not wearing a mask,” Cummings said. “We just simply don’t’ have the resources and time to be able to handle that influx. We’re going to focus our attention on maintaining law and order throughout the city and handling all the other complaints we continue to get each and every day.”
Cummings said the police department’s 22 sworn officers do not have the resources to handle multiple calls it could receive about someone not wearing a mask, unless the safety of the public is at risk. Last year, the Reedsburg Police Department received 17,000 calls for a city of almost 10,000 people, not counting those who visit the area, Cummings said.
“Now if there’s a safety concern, if people are fighting over it, we need to preserve safety and keep order,” Cummings said. “So we’ll obviously respond to that if needed, but we’re hopeful the people respect other people’s decisions and not get to that point.”
“Our main focus will be to help with the educational piece of it and we’ll certainly help those that have concerns or complaints in directing those to the Sauk County Health Department to see if they are able to help address those concerns,” he said.
Masks will also be issued to staff at the Reedsburg Police Department, the chief said. Cummings encourages the public to follow the order if they don’t have any medical conditions that prevents one from wearing a mask.
“We’re hopeful this a compliant piece the citizens follow so everyone can do their part,” he said.
Like Reedsburg, Sauk Prairie Police Chief Jerry Strunz said its police department will focus on the educational aspect of the mask mandate. He said a hotline has been set up with the health department for people to call with complaints at 608-355-3200. Strunz mentioned Evers’ order also lists in the frequently asked questions to not call the police for complaints of someone not wearing a mask.
“Because there are a number of reasons people may not be wearing a mask and our concern would be you not tie up the communication center with these calls and inquiries when it should be publicly directed to the public health department,” he said.
Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.
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