Florida sheriff bans cops from wearing masks on the job as COVID-19 deaths spikeAugust 12, 2020
A Florida sheriff has banned officers from wearing masks at work — citing “clear communication” amid anti-cop sentiment — as coronavirus deaths soar in the state, according to a report Wednesday.
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods on Tuesday sent out an order instructing all of his deputies to remove face coverings in the lobby of the police station and in most other cases on the job, the Washington Post reported.
“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,” Woods wrote in an email to officers, outlining the new rule.
If anyone challenges a deputy about failing to wear a mask, officers may “politely and professionally tell them I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff,” he wrote.
The top cop added, “This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion.”
The ban — which came as Florida recorded a record-high number of coronavirus deaths Tuesday — also requires visitors to remove masks before entering the building. It makes an exception for officers in high-risk situations such as during hospital visits or when dealing with people who are likely infected.
Deputies can still wear masks in areas such as the county courthouse and jail, where infection numbers recently spiked, but must immediately remove the protective face gear after visiting the sites, Woods said.
“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not. The fact is, the amount of professionals that give the reason why we should, I can find the exact same amount of professionals that say why we shouldn’t,” Woods wrote in the email, which was first reported by the Ocala Star-Banner.
He argued that a mask-free environment hasn’t led to a spike in infections in his 900-person department so far, adding, “Since the beginning of this pandemic the operation of this office has not changed and no wearing of masks has been put in place.”
Cops nationwide have faced criticism for inconsistent use of masks, and some departments allow exemptions for incidents where masks might impede cops in the line of duty.
But Woods is among the first law enforcement officials to forbid his officers from wearing masks, even as the Ocala City Council — which represents the county’s largest city — passed an emergency mask order last week.
In New York City, police are required to wear face coverings on the job.
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