What does mask mandate mean?

A. Drew Smith
adsmith@swtimes.com
State Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith

There has been confusion about how enforceable the Arkansas governor’s mask mandate is since he signed the executive order in July. Police departments are handling the executive order to various degrees.

Area police have taken various approaches to the mandate itself as well as its enforcement. Some area departments are requiring officers to wear masks, but not actively enforcing the mandate. Others are taking the education approach, while still others are doing nothing at all.

The executive order stands as long as Arkansas is in a state of emergency. The order has the force of law, but is not a statute in that it is not permanent. However, it is enforceable.

State Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, pointed out that “not going to enforce and not being enforceable are two different things.”

In Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s executive order, it states that a first-time violation will receive a warning and anyone under 18 will receive a warning for each violation. The paragraph before that states the violation of Department of Health guidelines can result in a fine of $100 to $500, but later it states that no officer may detain an individual for not wearing a mask.

There have been no reports of tickets or fines issued for not wearing a mask in the state.

The Fort Smith Police Department (FSPD) has elected to go the route of education and encouraging people to wear protective face masks.

In an effort to promote mask usage, FSPD requires all its officers to wear masks and has its seal printed on the masks. FSPD also goes around to businesses that follow the mask mandate and highlights them in their Catch Me Caring campaign.

In Greenwood, Police Chief Will Dawson said they have not been called out to enforce the mask mandate. Dawson also said the residents of Greenwood have been compliant with the order. They either wear a mask or they do not go to places that require it.

Greenwood police wear their masks and are prepared to educate those who are not following the guidelines, the chief added.

Booneville stands at the other end of the spectrum where the police chief has stated he will not enforce the mask mandate, but also would work with local businesses to follow the directives to remain in operation.

Booneville Police Chief Ben Villarreal and Logan County Sheriff Jason Massey issued statements in July following the governor’s executive order that their officers would not issue citations as permitted by the mandate.

Both Villarea and Massey also indicated they would assist local businesses as they look to follow the directive necessary to remain in operation.

“The Booneville Police Department will not be issuing citations for the Governor’s mask order,” Villareal told the Booneville Democrat. “Please be respectful and mindful of others. If you go to a business and are asked to leave please do so without incident. Remember that businesses must comply with the order to stay open and we all want what’s best for our community.”

The current state of emergency end date is Dec. 12, but that is expected to be extended as Arkansas continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker