Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods has banned his employees and any visitors to his office from wearing masks.
Police departments nationwide have approached the novel COVID-19 situation differently, some requiring masks and others (like Marion County) forbidding them.
Said Sheriff Woods in an email on August 11th, “my order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn.”
What might be the reason for banning the use of masks by police officers and those engaged in a law enforcement scenario?
Safety and clear communication, according to Sheriff Woods.
Woods explained that “in light of the current events when it comes to the sentiment and/or hatred toward law enforcement in our country today, this is being done to ensure there is clear communication and for identification purposes of any individual walking into a lobby.”
Exceptions to this order include scenarios in which officers are working at a courthouse, jail, in public schools, in hospitals, or when dealing with people suspected of being infected with COVID-19 or at high risk of complication from COVID-19.
“For all of these exceptions,” Woods said, “the moment that enforcement action is to be taken and it requires you to give an individual orders/commands to comply, the mask will be immediately removed.”
Woods instructed employees that, if confronted by anyone about not wearing a mask, the employee should “politely and professionally tell them I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff,” and to walk away.
“From that point on it will be my burden and responsibility to take care of the person and answer their problem, complaint or their question,” Woods explained.
The no-mask order even includes visitors to the sheriff’s office. Woods’ order instructs his employees to request that visitors who refuse to wear masks to leave, and to request the cell numbers of those who are uncomfortable waiting in a lobby with other people so that the office could contact them while they wait outside.
“…this is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion,” Woods stated. “Please keep in mind this entire pandemic is fluid and constantly changing the way things are done.”
Woods’ order has been met with disagreement, but has also been supported by the County Commissioner and the Ocala Police Chief among others. Their concern is to keep the lines of communication clear in all law enforcement encounters.
There is no state-wide order regarding masks in Florida.
Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn vetoed an emergency ordinance passed last week that would require people to wear masks inside businesses. The City Council will be meeting today for a possible override of the veto.