Park City and Summit County law enforcement leaders report no major incidents related to the county’s mask mandate
It’s a tough time to be in law enforcement, local lawmen say, a career that has become increasingly polarizing in recent years and even more so in recent months as instances of police violence have drawn national attention and widespread calls for reform.
Now it’s the job of law enforcement officers in Summit County to police the county’s mask mandate, a measure that has drawn vitriol from some residents and accusations of tyranny and the trampling of constitutional rights.
“You people have terrorized an entire population,” an irate caller said in a voice message left with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office July 6, according to a report. “I am part of the push-back legally to come after every one of you — you understand?”
Sheriff Justin Martinez addressed the situation earlier this month at a meeting with elected officials from across Summit County.
“In this environment that we’re in in law enforcement, as a nation, we’re taking a beating,” Martinez said.
He and Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter say they’re pursuing a policy of education about the mask mandate before enforcement. As of Monday, neither agency had issued a citation related to the refusal of wearing masks.
Carpenter in an interview said that if a situation were to escalate to the point of disturbing the peace or trespassing, his officers would take appropriate action, but such a scenario had not happened.
Martinez recounted a story of a man who came into the Summit County Justice Center without a mask and essentially dared deputies to arrest him while recording the interaction on his phone.
The sheriff said the man was trying to provoke a confrontation, and he lauded the deputies for deflating the situation by telling the man they wouldn’t arrest him or even issue a citation.
The mask mandate, made effective countywide June 27, makes it an infraction not to wear a mask in public in most situations. It carries the same penalties as not wearing a seatbelt: a maximum fine of $750 and no possibility of jail time.
Summit County sheriff’s deputies and Park City police officers were issued extra masks to hand out to citizens if necessary, the leaders said. Carpenter said Park City officers have been handing out masks on Main Street when it’s been pedestrianized on recent Sundays and have tried to educate people that wearing masks isn’t necessarily to protect their own health, but the health of their loved ones or neighbors.
Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright said deputies didn’t resent being put in the middle of the mask controversy, and were accustomed to functioning in that capacity, as they are tasked with enforcing laws, not making them.
“It puts deputies in a hard spot,” Wright acknowledged. “Deputies have to put aside their own personal opinions. No doubt there are deputies, officers that absolutely believe masks are stupid and should not be worn, but when you put on that uniform, you put your opinions aside. You become that peacekeeper, that enforcer of the law.”
Carpenter said it isn’t unusual for law enforcement personnel to be asked to do tasks that aren’t related to traditional crime fighting.
“I’ve been a cop 32 years and we’ve been — during my career, the majority of it is that we take on a lot of things that don’t fit in another box,” he said. “… Our life is very different right now. You figure we have so much social unrest right now, then you have COVID on top of it, then you have unemployment on top of that. So, so many social issues, mental health issues. All of these things, when no one else has an answer for a problem, law enforcement is typically the ones that are asked to figure that out.”
He said it’s a particularly tough time for everyone, officers included, and that enforcing the mask mandate isn’t making things any easier. But he said his department had received tremendous support from the community, as well as other officials throughout the county who have helped present a united front.
“It’s been good because it hasn’t been just the police department, it’s been a community, really a community effort to figure out how to address the problem,” Carpenter said.
The point was echoed by the Sheriff’s Office.
“That goes to show, one, the buy-in and community support that we really experience in Summit County, and second of all, having our Health Department, our deputies, the county government as a whole really approaching this with compassion and really putting the community’s health and safety at the utmost priority and really taking this seriously,” Wright said. “… Wear your mask, do your part. It’s not that difficult.”
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