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Many police departments are giving out masks instead of fines for scofflaws amid coronavirus

Cambridge Police Officer Michael Alpers handed a driver some masks after 8,000 were donated to the city.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Roughly one week after Governor Charlie Baker’s statewide order requiring people to wear face coverings in public when they can’t socially distance to combat the spread of COVID-19, many police departments are reluctant to fine violators, preferring instead to distribute masks and educate the public on the need to wear them.

Boston Police Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman, said Thursday that Hub police haven’t issued any fines or citations.

“We’re all about education and compliance,” Boyle said, adding that when officers spot people in public without masks, “we explain to them the dangers of this virus and how highly contagious it is and advise them to wear a mask for their safety, for their loved ones’ safety, and for everybody’s safety.”

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Cambridge police are taking a similar approach.

“At this stage, our Officers have distributed more than 25,000 masks and educational materials and no fines,” said Jeremy Warnick, a spokesman for the Cambridge Police Department, in an e-mail message Thursday morning.

Lawrence Police Chief Roy P. Vasque said the department assigned two extra patrols Monday through Friday during the daylight hours to make sure people are wearing masks. The officers have informational brochures that explain the benefits of wearing masks in public. If a police officer sees someone without a mask, the officer will give the scofflaw a flyer.

“We’re taking an educational approach,” Vasque said in a telephone interview. “We’re trying to get the word out.”

“Our regular officers will also be looking, educating the public, and when we receive a supply of masks, distributing them," he added.

Vasque said he doesn’t anticipate any fines will be issued because most people in Lawrence are already following the rules. Some residents are even taking it a step further, and being extra cautious for the sake of public health.

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“I see people driving in their cars by themselves and they’re wearing masks,” he said.

People in Chelsea have also gone above and beyond when it comes to wearing masks, according to Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes.

“The residents have been exceptional from 'Day One' back in mid-March,” he said in an e-mail. “Initially they were never required to wear a mask yet they ALL did. If I saw someone without a mask as I drove around the city quite honestly I was shocked. It quickly became the social norm here in Chelsea weeks before there was any order issued either locally or by the state. I am very proud of the way they have been dealing with an incredibly difficult situation here on the ground where the virus is so prevalent. It has not been necessary for the police or the local Board of Health to issue any warnings or fines because the level of compliance is so high.”

One community that has issued fines is Chicopee, according to Chicopee police Officer Michael Wilk, a department spokesman.

“One was an individual at our Walmart who was extremely belligerent and refused to put any kind of face cover on for the security officer and for employees,” Wilk said in an e-mail. “He basically forced his way into the store, left before we arrived, and he was issued a $300 citation. We also issued citations for people not wearing facial coverings when they were at the dugout Café in a basement makeshift bar. The [six] people without face covers were also issued $300 fines.”

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Baker’s order requires people to cover their nose and mouth if they can’t maintain a 6-foot distance from others in any “place open to the public.” The requirement does not apply to children 2 years old and younger or those with medical issues that would prevent them from wearing a mask.

Those who don’t follow the protocol can face fines up to $300 under the order, but enforcement’s largely 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.

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


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.