‘They ought to be respectful of other people’: Man concerned about law enforcement not wearing masks

Updated: Jul. 21, 2020 at 5:24 PM EDT
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MECKLENBURG COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - A Cumberland County man is seeking clarification on Virginia’s mask policy when it comes to outdoor settings and involving law enforcement.

Under Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 63, it does not mention a requirement for officers, deputies or troopers to wear a mask when interacting with drivers at their vehicle, but Paul Horowitz feels there should be.

"They can carry the virus or give it to other people without even knowing it," he said.

On Saturday, Horowitz was in the car with his wife and granddaughter when they were pulled over for allegedly speeding on Route 15 south in Mecklenburg County.

They immediately stopped and put on their masks preparing to speak with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Deputy but soon entered what they called an uncomfortable situation.

“He walked up to the car and he didn’t have a mask on,” Horowitz said. “I said, ‘sir, can you put a mask on please,’ and he said, ‘we don’t have to wear masks’.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Horowitz said he and his wife have been doing everything they can to stay healthy since they are in the high-risk age range for COVID-19.

The 67-year-old said he asked the deputy several times to either put a mask on or take a step away from the car, but he said the deputy did not oblige.

“I’m thinking he was two feet away from the window,” Horowitz said. “He wouldn’t back up, we’re in an enclosed car and his breath I’m sure was coming in the car and we’re all trying to stay safe.”

NBC12 spoke with Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office Major Terry Edmonds Tuesday afternoon who said they are aware of the situation.

Per that conversation, Edmonds said since Virginia entered Phase Three guidelines they have left it up to the deputy’s discretion to wear a mask.

“We’ve strongly advised they wear one when interacting with the public,” Edmonds added. “We tell them to think about their families; don’t want to bring something home to them.”

"They ought to be respectful of other people," Horowitz said.

Edmonds said all deputies and employees with the agency have been issued masks. He added they will be addressing the issue with the deputy and reminding other deputies about their mask recommendation on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director, Dana Schrad, said everyone, including officers, needs to be making sound decisions when it comes to wearing masks in public.

While there is no mandate at this time requiring law enforcement personnel to wear face coverings when interacting with the public, Schrad proposed a few reasons why they may not be:

  • Lack of personal protective equipment provided by the agency
  • In order for the hearing impaired to be able to understand what the officer is saying by reading lips

Additionally, NBC12 reached out to the Governor’s Office for comment on the situation and also asked the following questions:

  • Does the mask mandate apply to law enforcement officers?
  • Should law enforcement personnel be required to wear masks when approaching and speaking with individuals in a vehicle who are unable to socially distance?
  • Should citizens be allowed to request these officers wear masks for their safety/health?

Messages to the Governor’s Office were not immediately returned.

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