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Enforcing mask order: Some police departments say they will give violators face coverings, not fines

Officer Michael Alpers handed a mask to a driver in Cambridge.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

With Governor Charlie Baker’s order requiring Massachusetts residents to wear masks in public when they can’t socially distance taking effect Wednesday, some police departments plan to distribute face coverings to scofflaws, rather than fines.

“We are trying to avoid giving out citations by passing out masks to violators,” said Worcester Police Lieutenant Sean Murtha, a department spokesman, in an e-mail message.

In Chelsea, Police Chief Brian Kyes wrote in an e-mail to department personnel Wednesday that the statewide order shouldn’t significantly change things in his city, where a local order requiring patrons and workers at essential businesses to wear face coverings has been in effect for weeks.


“In terms of the Governor’s Face Covering Order, I would like all of us to operate under the premise of ‘Education before Enforcement,’ ” Kyes wrote. “If you encounter a situation where an individual is outside in public and is not practicing (or is unable to practice due to physical proximity limitations) physical/social distancing and is not wearing a face covering politely advise the individual of this new statewide mandatory order.”

If they don’t have access to a mask or covering, Kyes wrote, “please give them one. We now have additional masks available as of last night that we can give to members of the public if need be. As I have previously mentioned, I would think that these types of situations will be extremely rare in that most of our residents have been wearing a mask since mid-March or longer.”

Violators may face fines of up to $300 under the order, but enforcement will largely be left to local officials, who until Baker’s mandate had issued a patchwork of rules for face coverings throughout the state, some of which carried the potential for far heftier penalties.

The Springfield Police Department will fine repeat offenders $50, according to spokesman Ryan Walsh.


“If an officer responds to a call for non-compliance and they have extra masks, they will first offer it to the individual who is not wearing one,” Walsh wrote. “If the individual refuses to put one on, the officer will issue a written warning. [Second] and subsequent offenses will result in a $50 fine. The goal is not to fine individuals, the goal is compliance. We hope that our residents continue to cooperate with this order, as the vast majority have already taken these precautionary steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Baker issued the order to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, which as of Tuesday had killed 4,212 Massachusetts residents and infected 70,271 people.

Baker’s order means people will have to cover their nose and mouth if they’re unable to keep a 6-foot distance from others in any “place open to the public.” The requirement for a face covering — which can range from a bandanna or T-shirt to a homemade, disposable, or professionally made mask — will not apply to children 2 years old and younger or those with medical issues that would prevent them from wearing a mask.

Quincy Police Captain John Dougan, a department spokesman, said officers in his city also plan to inform violators about the policy, rather than cite them.

“Overall it’s more of an educational thing,” Dougan said, adding that many people in his city already have been wearing masks. He said police will tell violators “it’s for your own good and the good of everybody else.”


In Chicopee, a local mask order has been in effect for about a week, said Police Officer Michael Wilk, a department spokesman.

“Our officers frequently check businesses for compliance, and so far, so good," Wilk said via e-mail. "We have had some non compliance, and reports are filed, and fines can be issued, but, it has not reached that level yet. We will continue to be diligent and educate the public on how it is mandatory and how important it is. Our rates of sick, and death, are extremely low, and we attribute that to the policies we put in place early on.”

Lawrence police Chief Roy Vasque said his city has also had a local mask order in effect for about a week.

“We have taken an educational approach to these orders in that anytime we see a resident in noncompliance we take that opportunity to educate them on not only the order but the benefits to them, their families and the public to abiding by the order,” Vasque said via e-mail.

He said police will be working with the city public health officials “to check on businesses, where residents may congregate, to make sure that they are complying with order. We have not at this point given out any fines and don’t anticipate doing so. Our residents have been great so far complying with all the warnings and it’s our hope that they continue to do so.”


A similar approach is being adopted in Waltham.

“Since the health department has ultimate jurisdiction over these matters, the police department will be assisting them if requested,” said Waltham police Detective Sergeant Timothy King, a department spokesman, via e-mail. “Our preferred response is to educate the public and request voluntary compliance with the order.”

King’s words were echoed by Bridgewater police Chief Christopher D. Delmonte, who said his officers will only look to issue fines when “all other options” including education and requesting compliance have failed.

“Education is the best piece,” Delmonte said. “The great majority of people understand and appreciate what we’re talking about. ... I just don’t think we’re going to find that this is a significant problem. There may be isolated incidents here or there that warrant more stronger action than requesting compliance."

Steve Poftak, general manager of the MBTA, said in a statement Tuesday night that he wanted to thank “customers taking essential trips for doing the right thing and complying with the Executive Order by wearing face coverings within the T system.”

Poftak said many customers already were wearing face coverings while using the transit system, and the "new measure is one more important step in our continuing efforts to protect our workforce and our riders.”

But despite the order, an internal guidance memo issued to T employees said operators cannot refuse service to customers who aren’t wearing masks.

“The MBTA cannot refuse to transport customers that do not have a mask or refuse to wear it,” the memo said. “If a customer refuses to wear the mask the OCC Dispatcher must be notified and must input a log entry noting the incident.”


Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said in an e-mail that there are no plans to sanction or cite violators on the transit system.

“It is recorded in a dispatcher’s log for data gathering purposes,” he wrote. " ... Also remember that the [executive] order allows for exemptions​."

Matt Stout and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.