Nashville police officers began enforcing the city’s mask mandate on Wednesday with a focus on warning people instead of issuing fines in the Lower Broadway tourism area.
They gave out zero citations and 494 verbal warnings, mostly to tourists on sidewalks who didn’t know about the mask mandate. Officers also handed out 70 educational flyers and 79 masks during the first full shift, from 9 a.m. Wednesday to 1 a.m. early Thursday.
A special team of school resource officers have been assigned to mask enforcement. Their guidance instructs them to use discretion and to “warn and educate those persons when doing so is reasonably likely to correct the violation,” according to a memo shared by the department.
It’s when officers don’t sense that a person will comply that they could issue a $50 civil citation. And if a person balks at that, like by refusing to sign it, officers can make a misdemeanor arrest.
The department’s guidance for large gatherings also leans toward warnings, advising officers to make repeated warning announcements over a speaker system to “allow sufficient time for compliance before taking any enforcement action.”
The police department says officers won’t go into establishments for enforcement. Their focus is on potentially crowded sidewalks. Metro’s rules call for masks outdoors in places where 6 feet of social distance cannot be maintained.
There are multiple exemptions to the mandate, including during exercise and while eating or drinking. Children under 13 and people who “cannot medically tolerate” a mask are not required to wear one.
Btwn 9 a.m. Wed & 1 a.m. today, MNPD officers on Broadway working to ensure compliance with the Health Dept's mandatory mask order issued 494 verbal warnings, handed out 70 educational sheets, and gave 79 masks to homeless individuals. 0 citations issued. pic.twitter.com/KIZNhh1vZp
— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) July 16, 2020
NewsChannel 5 reports that the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police raised concerns about police officers enforcing the mask mandate in a letter to members. The FOP also urged officers to use arrests as a “last resort” in a time when officers are being criticized for over-policing.
This story was updated at 10:30 Thursday morning to reflect the latest enforcement counts from police.