Abilene police will enforce Governor’s mask orders but ‘will not actively seek violators’

Abilene

ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Abilene Police Department will be enforcing Governor Abbott’s order mandating masks, however, officers will not actively seek violators.

Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott announced individuals in counties with twenty or more active COVID-19 cases would be required to wear masks while in public.

Violating this order could result in a fine up to $250, but first-time offenders will receive warnings and no arrests can be made as a result of the mask mandate.

Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge released the following guidelines to his officers, instructing how to enforce the order:

It is a Class C Misdemeanor to violate the order, punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. However, the order requires a citizen be warned before a citation can be issued. If they are warned and still refuse to don a mask, then a citation can be issued.

The order also states that officers / marshals cannot detain based on this violation only. The Department will not actively seek violators related to this offense. Instead, we will respond as call load allows.

Dispatch will classify this as a Priority 3. Please know that many citizens will expect enforcement, given the current belief that COVID-19 has surged. Other citizens will perceive this as a violation of their freedoms.

The City Manager and I both believe that officers have discretion on issuing citations after a warning, but the order gives you no detention authority. If you believe the behavior will not change absent enforcement and the issue is causing a disturbance, and no detention occurs because of your presence, then you have authority to enforce. This means you cannot activate lights or require persons remain and speak to you.

Arrests are prohibited by Executive Order GA-29. Officers cannot use a mask violation to establish probable cause or reasonable suspicion for unrelated criminal conduct. The order does allow for enforcement of trespassing laws for violators who refuse to leave a business establishment while not adhering to GA-29 requirements. This would still be dependent on the business’ willingness to prosecute for trespassing.

The Governor’s Proclamation amends GA-28 by prohibiting gatherings in excess of 10 people unless the mayor of the city approves of the gathering.

“For any outdoor gathering in excess of 10 people, other than those set forth above in paragraph numbers 1, 2, or 4, the gathering is prohibited unless the mayor of the city in which the gathering is held, or the county judge in the case of a gathering in an unincorporated area, approves of the gathering, and such approval can be made subject to certain conditions or restrictions not inconsistent with this executive order;”

This offense carries a fine not to exceed $1,000, which is also a Class C Misdemeanor.

The City Manager’s intent is to warn and seek voluntary compliance. Only if the behavior will not change absent enforcement, then consider a citation. You have the discretion.

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