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Face mask tickets are ‘definitely on the table’

Alpena police to try education first, PI to refer to AG’s Office

News File Photo Thrifty shoppers, following masking orders, leave the St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store in Alpena in July.

ALPENA — New mask-wearing regulations went into effect in Michigan on Monday, making masks mandatory indoors and threatening citations for business owners who allow customers inside without a face covering.

The new rule also applies to outdoor areas where people are unable to be socially distant.

Writing tickets for violating the law is a possibility, but local police say they hope they don’t have to do so.

The governor’s decision — put into effect Monday after coronavirus cases began to climb again in Michigan — says people not complying could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined.

Businesses letting people in without masks could be temporarily shut down and face up to a $500 fine and sanction by state licensing agencies.

Alpena Police Department officers won’t be looking for people violating the order, Lt. Eric Hamp said.

As with the department’s response to previous coronavirus-related orders, the first step is education, Hamp said. Officers will follow up on complaints and, where a violation is found, will explain the new law and ask for voluntary compliance.

Officers also won’t randomly check to see if businesses are complying. Hamp said business owners shouldn’t be surprised to see officers stopping by to follow up on a complaint, however.

Police don’t want to hand out citations related to the new order, but, Hamp said, if conversation and education doesn’t lead to compliance, “that option is definitely on the table.”

By midday Monday, police had already received a volley of phone calls about the new policy, and Hamp anticipated many more in the days to come, both questions about the policy and people lodging complaints about non-mask-wearers.

“Just because someone doesn’t have a mask on doesn’t automatically mean they’re in violation,” Hamp cautioned.

Several exceptions for the new policy — for people who are exercising, eating, or have a health condition that makes masks medically intolerable — will make enforcing the rule challenging, Hamp said.

The exemption for health reasons puts business owners in a difficult place, according to 1st Lt. John Grimshaw, Michigan State Police-Alpena Post commander.

If a customer, approached by business personnel, says they are medically unable to mask up, the business owner — unable to confirm whether the customer is telling the truth — is forced to ask the customer to leave to protect their business from censure, Grimshaw said.

The governor’s regulation requires businesses to police themselves, Grimshaw said, and to refuse service to people who refuse to wear masks. If customers continue to decline to wear a mask, the business can report the incident, which will be treated similarly to a trespassing charge.

As with the Alpena Police Department, troopers from the Alpena Post will not perform random compliance checks.

Alpena County Sheriff Steven Kieliszewski said the governor’s new order will be extremely difficult to enforce, especially with a limited staff.

If residents phone in complaints about others not wearing masks, a deputy will respond — if one’s available — but other work may have to come first. Businesses struggling with an uncooperative customer who refuses to leave will be a high priority, Kieliszewski said.

In Presque Isle County, Sheriff Joe Brewbaker said his agency will not actively investigate any mask-related complaints. All callers will be told to contact the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.

Brewbaker said he’s heard many sheriffs around the state are following the same policy, and calls his decision the right thing to do.

Sheriffs for Alcona and Montmorency counties could not be reached for comment.

Following up on complaints will take time away from officers’ other duties, Hamp said. Following orders from the state is a regular aspect of law enforcement, he added, and the extra work involved is just part of the job.

Most people police have confronted about mask regulations have been willing to comply, Hamp said. He hopes to see similar willingness now.

“If all of us wearing a mask gets us over this pandemic sooner rather than later,” Hamp said, “then let’s just put our masks on and please move forward.”

District Health Department No. 4 does not have the power to enforce the new mandates, but is available to answer questions and provide guidance and recommendations, spokeswoman Cathy Goike said.

Complaints regarding the new mask executive order can be filed with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration at 855-723-3219.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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