In the wake of a face covering ordinance approved Monday night by the Tahlequah City Council, Police Chief Nate King addressed the public in regard how officers will enforce the mandate.
King said the issue has caused confusion, arguments, debates, and applause. However, he added that he felt the emergency ordinance needed some clarification.
“We are not looking to issue citations or to make arrests in regard to this mask mandate,” King said. "This mask mandate is something, while personally I may not agree with it, as a professional law man, we have to enforce those laws that are passed either [at] the state or local levels.”
Several citizens asked how TPD will enforce the ordinance and if whether they have to provide proof of being among the exempted group from wearing face coverings.
“Anybody that meets the medical, mental health, or developmental disability — the standards the Centers for Disease Control put out — [is] exempt from wearing a mask," King said. "One of the questions I saw on Facebook during the night was whether or not people have to provide proof of that medical condition or mental heath condition. The answer is no; we will not be asking for people to provide proof,” King said. “We’re going to take people at their word. Legally, I think we could ask people for proof, but we’re not going to.”
When it comes to penalties, King said, officers will not issue citations for simply not wearing masks.
“The way this mandate is written, presented, and passed, there is no penalty for simply not wearing a your mask,” King said. “What we’re going to be doing is responding to businesses or calls for service when someone basically — in a nutshell — is told, 'You can’t come in here without a mask,' and the situation deteriorates.”
If business owners call the police about a dispute over a face covering, an officer will respond. King said the business owner can sign a city complaint if the person continues to be belligerent and refuses to leave.
“The business may sign a city complain or place you under citizen’s arrest for trespassing, disturbing the peace, something along those lines,” King said. “But simply not wearing a mask will not get you a citation; it will not get you arrested in Tahlequah due to this mandate.”
The chief said several officers are not in favor of the mandate, but every officer will carry extra masks for those who need them.
He said the goal is to not issue a single citation because of the ordinance, and believes TPD officers won’t have to, since they didn’t have to issue any during the earlier curfew.