WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — After a weekend of enforcing Governor Greg Abbott’s order requiring masks, some Wichita Falls Police officers are confused by the wording.
Governor Abbott’s order restricts law enforcement from detaining, arresting or confining mask violators which is why WFPD is asking for citizens to wear a mask.
Because Wichita County has more than 20 COVID-19 cases, every person in the county must wear a mask in a public space. Anyone not wearing a mask can be subject to a fine of up to $250. But because Governor Abbott’s order restricts law enforcement from detaining, arresting or confining violators, police officials are unsure of how they can hand out citations.
“Just by reading the order right now, it looks like it’s not legal for us to detain someone,” Wichita Falls Police Department public information officer Sergeant Charlie Eipper said. “So there would have to be compliance even in that to stick around so that we write someone a citation.”
Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom says officers should be able to hand out mask citations like they would do any other misdemeanor.
“They’re well trained, they’re good officers, they can perfect that if they need to,” Gossom said. “Every time they approach somebody is gonna be different. Sheriff Duke has his view Wichita Falls PD has their view and I’m gonna let law enforcement do its job.”
But according to these officials, Governor Abbott’s executive order has left too much room for interpretation.
“That’s just the way I’m interpreting it right now. So I’m open for any other interpretations,” Eipper said.
“They need to work at making a much more definitive and much more able to be enforced by law enforcement. And not the gray areas that I think are being created by the governor’s orders at this time,” Gossom said.
Police said they have not given any citations as of yet and Eipper has seen residents following the order.
“I’ve been encouraged by how much our citizens are taking it seriously and are actually following the order by wearing the mask in stores and other places.”
The more people wear masks, the less police have to worry about writing citations about this order.
Eipper said that police are asking officers to remind people to wear a mask before they attempt to give them a citation.
On July 6th, Gossom issued an order also requiring masks when in public or when it is not feasible to maintain a distance of six feet. In the order, he clarified the first incident could result in a verbal or written warning. Each subsequent incident could be a $250 fine.