Wisconsin sheriffs voice concerns on enforcing mask mandate

face masks
Posted at 11:16 AM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 23:52:39-04

WISCONSIN (NBC 26) ⁠— Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers issued a statewide mask mandate amid the rising number of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin.

According to the order, anyone who violates it would be subject to a $200 fine. It is scheduled to run until September 28.

Sheriff's offices in Brown County, Fond du Lac County, Calumet County, Manitowoc County, Shawano County, Outagamie County and Dodge County shared how they will be handling the order and not directly enforcing it. Many explained they will not respond to complaints of individuals violating the face covering mandate.

Shawano County Sheriff Adam Bieber said they will accept calls and document complaints on violations, but ultimately is asking people not to call the department about others not wearing masks. He said he doesn't expect complaints about people not wearing masks to be investigated unless situations rise to an offense where they have to respond.

"There are so many exemptions to this mandate that it's impossible to enforce," said Bieber. "We don't want to step on anybody's rights or medical history or anything like that. We don't want to put ourselves in liability positions where we're then responsible or violating people's rights."

He said they will absolutely respond if a business calls to report someone refusing to wear a mask and refusing to leave the business when asked. He said they're asking people to respect private businesses and their requirements, adding that they're expecting people to have personal responsibility.

"At this time, it is not clear who the Governor has designated to be responsible for the primary enforcement of the face covering mandate," said Brown Co. Sheriff Todd J. Delain.

Dodge Co. Sheriff Dale J. Schmidt added there many loopholes in the mask mandate that are open to interpretation. He explained that there are medical as well as other legitimate reasons why someone might not wear a mask, which leads to issues with legality.

"We do not have the resources or the time to respond to complaints about people not wearing masks, and there are many legitimate reasons that people cannot safely wear masks," wrote Fond du Lac Co. Sheriff Ryan Waldschmidt. "We recognize that Covid-19 is a legitimate public health concern, but I respect your individual freedom to decide how you protect yourself."

Sheriff Waldschmidt said to respect an individual's decision on whether or not they wear a mask.

In the executive order, Sheriff Schmidt references the Governor's direction that the public should do nothing if they see someone not wearing a mask.

All three sheriffs have asked people to not call to report noncompliance with the mask mandate as they will not be investigating these complaints.

Sheriff Delain explained officers will still respond to businesses or other owners who requested an individual leave the premise for failing to comply with the face mask requirement specific to that location.

"In those situations, our focus is not on the face covering order itself, but rather the fact that the individual is not wanted in a particular place, that the individual has been asked to leave and has not complied with the request of the person in control of that premise," said Sheriff Delain. "This enforcement response is consistent with most, if not all, of the other Sheriff’s Offices throughout Northeast Wisconsin."

"Our on-duty staff will be directed to comply with the mask mandate with the understanding that several exceptions permit them to not always have a mask on," said Sheriff Schmidt. "[Staff] will also be asked to voluntarily comply with the order while off duty. Voluntary compliance by the public is of course the avenue we have asked of our citizens in all matters during the pandemic and that has not changed."

For more information on COVID-19 in Wisconsin, visit the state Department of Health Services website.